02/14/12 — County starts budget debate

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County starts budget debate

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 14, 2012 1:46 PM

When Wayne County commissioners finished counting out their stacks of $100 in play money Monday afternoon, they found themselves left with only $8 to work with.

The exercise was the culmination of a daylong retreat devoted mainly to county finances including the recently released audit for fiscal year 2010-11 that gave the county high marks for its budgeting, financial policies and low amount of debt.

County Manager Lee Smith passed out the play money to each commissioner. He then had them count out certain percentages for five areas, including public safety, education and human services -- noting that 92 percent of the county budget is restricted by federal and state mandates or services that people expect, leaving only 8 percent for discretionary expenses.

It is up to commissioners to decide how those few remaining dollars are spent, Smith said.

"What (does the public) need?" he said. "You have been elected to look at that. But we are also trying to find ways to get messages back from them -- what do they want? You have transportation. (Commissioner) J.D. (Evans) brings up almost every year recreation. You have never done it, but is it something you want to look at again? Don't know. Can we afford it? Don't know. You have to ask that."

There recently has been a "big discussion" about the fate of the Fremont Library, he said.

"Is it worth the few thousand to keep it open?" Smith said. "Some of you said yes."

To keep the library open and remain within budget would mean cuts elsewhere in the library department, he said.

Smith said county schools officials have asked him about the budget and he told them he was plugging in the same figures as the current budget.

School officials said that means they will have to find ways to live within their means.

"I said that, 'You do,'" Smith said. "That is what we are going to have to do because we said this year no property tax increase. OK. Then we are going to find a way, based on your priorities, to do the things that the general public is asking, things that are required by state and federal mandates."

Auditor Paul Brashear, of Nunn, Brashear & Co., told commissioners that three departments -- human services (33.24 percent), education (26.92 percent) and public safety (20.22 percent) -- account for 80 percent of the county budget expenditures.

He also provided an example of where a person's tax dollars go. He used a home valued at $100,000 on which the homeowner would pay $702.50 in taxes.

The breakdown of where the money goes was:

* $233.51 (33.24 percent) human services

* $189.11 (26.92 percent) education

* $142.05 (20.22 percent) public safety

* $98.14 (13.97 percent) general government

* $14.89 (2.12 percent) culture and recreation

* $11.17 (1.59 percent) economic development

* $6.88 (0.98 percent) environmental protection

* $4.14 (0.59 percent) transportation

* $2.60 (0.37 percent) interest on debt.

According to the audit, the county's total long-term debt decreased by $1,669,147 during the current fiscal year.

Also, the county's total net assets increased by $6,100,401 based on the county taking on the former Goldsboro-Wayne Airport and public library.

At the end of the fiscal year 2010-11, the General Fund had a fund balance of $49,333,980 of which $23,861,290, or 28 percent, was unassigned.

"So if somebody says you have $49 million of fund balance, a lot of it has been spoken for," Brashear said.

Still, Brashear called the unassigned total a "very healthy balance."

Commissioners opened the Monday morning session listing priorities for the county -- ranging from education, to infrastructure, to protecting Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. They resumed that exercise when they reconvened this morning.

Monday afternoon sessions were devoted to updates on the GATEWAY transit system and the county human resources and solid waste departments.

Commissioners today are scheduled to talk about emergency medical services, WayneNET, 911 and the survey of county fire services now under way.

That was to be followed by reviews of the Mount Olive library, Services on Aging and school projects. County Manager Lee Smith was to provide a general overview of the county's capital improvement plan.

The afternoon session was to include a presentation on economic development and breakout sessions for commissioners.

The retreat, which is open to the public, is being held on the second floor of the Jeffreys Building, 134 N. John St.

Smith told commissioners that additional one-day sessions will be held in March, April and May.