08/03/11 — County already seeing cuts in funding

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County already seeing cuts in funding

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 3, 2011 1:46 PM

State budget cuts are beginning to seep into the Wayne County budget and within the coming months could force county commissioners to make service decisions that could eventually affect jobs, County Manager Lee Smith said.

"If you remember in the budget, the thing I said concerned me most about the state and federal budgets were the things that you don't know about and the things you don't see," Smith told commissioners at their Tuesday meeting. "Well, they are starting to happen. We are starting to get those notices in Department of Social Services and the Health Department going, 'the $11,800 is gone, the $25,000 is gone.'

"When that happens those department managers call me and go, 'We want to do a budget amendment and take it out of reserve.' Time-out. This is what I think -- I don't think I should do this. I think I need to bring these to you and you should decide are we going to carry those services out."

Smith said he could not in good conscience make those decisions.

There is one cut, an orthopedic program at the Health Department, that will affect children, he said.

"That has come to me in the last 24 hours -- not enough time to get all of the data," Smith said.

Smith said he expects to have seven to 10 such issues by the board's next meeting.

He said commissioners will have to decide if they want to maintain programs by taking the money out of reserves -- with no guarantee that the federal or state funding that had supported it in the past will return.

Bureaucrats in Raleigh have gotten the budgets and are telling the county that grants are being cut, Smith said.

"We may say we have a little fund balance to cover that, but the fund balance is going to go away," Smith said.

"Are you basically saying that services that have been coming down to us in grants and so forth that we should not be taking on that liability as a county?" Commissioner Jack Best asked.

Not necessarily, Smith said.

For example, the orthopedic program.

"It will have an impact on children if we don't do it," Smith said. "I need you to understand because I don't think it should be just me. I need the board to understand that there will be an impact."

"My question is, is that our responsibility or the state's?" Best said.

"I think the state has now placed it on your head," Smith said.

The county has had a policy for years concerning grants, he said. As long as the grant was in place, the program was "doable," but when the grant ended, unless a strong return on investment could be demonstrated, it ended, Smith said.

Return on investment means the impact on the community, he explained.

The county has shed a number of programs because it did not get the return on them.

"You need to see your legislators and go, 'Wait a minute. You have just now affected these kids who are going to go to Wayne Memorial to have this surgery. It won't happen now or the taxpayers of Wayne County have got to pick it up. So when you said there was no tax increase -- wrong.'

"It is a tax increase when they hit my fund balance."

Commissioner Andy Anderson said that was what happened with the WISH program.

"We said we would pick it up, but there would be a limit of $50,000," he said. "I think it was $150,000 last year."

However, Smith said when the board did that, it looked at the return on the program.

"You will be discussing things like WISH and WATCH within the next six months because it's not only state and federal money, it is endowments," he said. "The money is drying up, and they are coming back to us.

"We have to figure out is it worth it to us to invest our local money in the program. That is a bigger call than Lee Smith should make. That is call for the people who voted you in to say, 'do we do it?'"

Smith said he would have to exercise judgment on what to bring.

If the impact appears negligible or if departments can find new revenue to make up the loss, Smith said he would be willing to go to the end of the year with the program.

If the department head can prove it cannot be done without raiding the fund balance, then it will need to come to the board, he said.

Best said that perhaps that should not just be on Smith's head.

"Maybe we need a general rule of no, then if you have an exception that you want to bring to us because it does affect in certain areas," Best said. "I think that might be the way that we should look at it. I don't think we should do anything today, but I think that we ought to look at it."

Commissioner Steve Keen said when those issues are brought before the board that possible solutions should be, too.

Smith said he has already discussed that with department heads.

It is a matter of commissioners making service decisions, he said.

"You are talking about programs. You are talking about jobs," Keen said.