06/04/12 — County talks budget

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County talks budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 4, 2012 1:46 PM

A tax rate unchanged from this year, more money for public schools and less for economic development, a continued freeze on most new hires and an emphasis on completing ongoing projects before launching a revised capital improvement plan highlight Wayne County's 2012-13 proposed budget.

The budget, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said, utilizes existing funds to afford the projects and services provided for in the budget without an increase in the tax rate of 70.25 cents per $100 worth of property.

Commissioners are expected to hold a work session on the $159 million proposed budget at their meeting Tuesday. They also are expected to set a public hearing for later this month.

Tuesday's meeting starts with an agenda briefing at 8 a.m. followed by the formal meeting at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

The public hearing is expected to be held June 19 at 9:15 a.m.

Three departments account for 74 percent of the budget expenditures -- human services, 27 percent; public safety, 24 percent; and education, 23 percent. General government accounts for 13 percent.

Smith said the county had a budget of $191 million when he first took office 10 years and that it has been reduced by almost $30 million to this year's $159 million.

The proposed budget is about $1 million more than the current budget.

That is because of the Qualified School Bond payments for the Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle school construction projects, Smith said.

The county is utilizing state lottery proceeds to pay the principal and local funds for the interest. However, the federal government will reimburse the interest payment on an annual basis.

The budget does not include a cost-of-living salary increase for employees. However, Smith said that at the first of the year he hopes continued efforts to trim budget costs will allow the county to approve a 2.5 percent pay increase for its employees.

"These measures will have to be approved by the board later this year contingent on our ability to fund without a request for additional revenues," Smith wrote in his budget message.

The proposed budget contains an additional $250,000 in current expense funding for the Wayne County Public Schools to help offset anticipated losses in the state's Low-Wealth allocation. It further recommends the continued funding of the Wee Wings program.

The budget would also absorb the full cost, $121,000, for the Day Reporting Center -- a cost that the Legislature has put back on the counties. Smith said the center is estimated to save the county more than $850,000 annually by reducing the county jail's inmate population as well as by rehabilitating offenders.

Wayne Community College also is in line for additional funding -- $435,000 in current and capital expenses.

Smith is recommending that the county hire two morel sheriff's deputies and buy two patrol cars. The county has not hired additional deputies in more than six years and Smith said two new ones are needed because of a continued increase in the number of calls to the Sheriff's Office, he said.

Also, the county is facing more than $1 million in repairs to the jail. The amount does not include a new roof that officials say is needed.

Other projects included in the proposed budget are:

* $2.7 million for Services on Aging renovations/purchase, under construction

* $3.85 million, Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive, design completed, bidding is the next step

* $400,000 Wayne Executive Jetport fuel farm, targeted for 2013.

All of those projects will be paid for with cash, thereby eliminating the need for any additional taxes, Smith said.

In light of those projects and the uncertainty of the next fiscal year Smith said he is recommending commissioner delay adopting a long-term capital improvement plan for 2012-13.

Rather, the plan needs to wait until commissioners develop a priority projects list of all capital projects for the county, public schools and community college, Smith said,

"Additionally, there is a need to better predict state and federal funding over the next two years," Smith wrote in his budget message. "Basically, the county has moved forward on some very important projects, but caution may now be an appropriate action."

In prior years the county has budgeted $1 million for the Development Alliance. However, in most years $500,000 or less have been spent, Smith said. With that in mind the budget purposes cutting the appropriation to $400,000 for next year only. Smith said he would recommend that the full $1 million be funded the following year.

Commissioners can always amend the budget should they need to should the county be approached about a new industry bringing in new jobs, Smith noted.