02/12/12 — County to talk finances, priorities

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County to talk finances, priorities

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 12, 2012 1:50 AM

A two-day planning retreat this week is expected to set the stage for a series of work sessions for Wayne County commissioners leading into work on the 2012-13 budget -- a budget that County Manager Lee Smith says will not include a tax increase.

Along with a presentation on the county audit and budget discussions, commissioners also will talk about capital projects and look at how those projects should be prioritized.

The retreat, which will be held in the Jeffreys Building at 134 N. John St., will start at 8:15 a.m. and end about 3:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. The sessions are open to the public.

Financial discussions will take up most of Monday morning.

"The first thing that we are going to do is to have a little exercise listing county priorities," Smith said. "The first real presentation is the audit, then (county finance director) Pam Holt is going to give our seven-month (budget) breakdown where we really are for this fiscal year.

"I think you are going to see from Pam that we look pretty good. If I compare us to other counties it is pretty much where we predicted. We have been very conservative in our revenue predictions."

The county did take some significant sales tax hits in January. However, those receipts are for revenue collected three months prior to that time, he said.

Since the information is proprietary, the state Department of Revenue will not provide specific information about the sources, he said.

State officials did say that some large non-profits had applied for exemptions and refunds and that had affected the amount the county received.

"That hit us for about a half million dollars," Smith said. "That wasn't expected, but we had expected flat growth, too. They are predicting that some of our next payments (revenues) should be up. Other than that, our expenditures are about what we expected."

The county also had unexpected expenditures because of Hurricane Irene, though all but $40,000 to $50,000 of that was recovered through FEMA aid and insurance, he said.

Smith said that while he has heard what he thinks is good news for brighter sales tax revenue projections for the next few years, the county should remain conservative in budgeting.

That approach has kept the county in the black and the audit will show that revenues exceeded expenditures, he said

Smith said he expects the budget discussions to much more "upbeat" than last year. One reason for that is because the county positioned itself better, he said.

"I know it is an election year and it is hard to look at any decision," he said. "We have talked about no new taxes. It is our goal this year that we are able to keep the tax rate at what the board set last year and that is our goal to live within the means they have given us to have a balanced budget."

The current tax rate is 70.25 cents per $100 of property value.

At the same time, state legislators will be back in session and Smith is concerned about possible changes over the next two years and how they might affect the county budget.

Davenport and Associates officials will make a presentation Monday based on a capital improvement plan that "if you do this based on these dollars this is what it will cost you," Smith said.

The consultants also will present a comparison of Wayne County to other counties.

Also to be presented on the first day will be a cost-of-service study. The study was done through the Military Growth Task Force and conducted by Mount Olive College. The study mainly concentrates on agriculture, the county's largest industry.

"It is basically taking a look at agriculture to say how much it impacts the community or how much of our services or what we do impacts agriculture," Smith said. "It is a very complicated issue. They are looking at what those impacts for communities are."

Monday afternoon will include informational presentations by GATEWAY, human resources and solid waste officials.

When the retreat resumes Tuesday the board will once again discuss priorities. There will be a presentation on EMS, Wayne NET and 911, too.

"We will have current project updates on the (Mount Olive) library, schools, Services on Aging," Smith said. "I will be giving, from the day before, a kind of a blow by blow of all of the capital improvement projects that we have predicted for the next seven years."

Smith said he wasn't ready to be more specific, but that he expected some capital projects to come off the list. Some others may be done quicker because the county has been able to save the cash to do them without having to borrow money, he said.

It won't be possible to do all of the projects, though, hence the need for commissioners to prioritize, he said.

Two projects that will move forward are the new Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive and new Services on Aging building, both cash projects, he said.

Also expected to be discussed are school projects, the Health Department and Department of Social Services.

The afternoon session will include an update on economic development and Smith will recap of accomplishments over the past five to 10 years.

Commissioners will then break out into groups with facilitators to work on priorities.