06/06/12 — County weighs budget proposal

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County weighs budget proposal

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 6, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners are hopeful that delaying budget workshops until later this month will provide a better indication of how the state budget could impact the county.

The proposed $159 million budget maintains the tax rate at 70.25 cents per $100 worth of property and does not call for any fee increases. However, it does provide additional funds for education, but $400,000 less for the county's Development Alliance.

Wayne County Public Schools would receive an additional $250,000 in current expense funding to help offset anticipated losses in the state's Low-Wealth allocation and funds for the Wee Wings program.

Wayne Community College would get an additional $435,000 in current and capital expenses.

Commissioner Steve Keen, during the board's Tuesday budget discussions, said he had been told by state legislators that it is possible budget information would be available by the middle of next week.

"Of course you never know what is going to happen, but they said that is sort of the way they are trying to move through," he said.

Also, waiting would give commissioners a chance to hear what the public has to say, Keen said.

County residents will have the opportunity to comment on the budget during a June 19 public hearing that will start at 9:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

Commissioners will follow up on the hearing with budget workshops on June 21 and 25. The workshops are open to the public and will begin at 8 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room. It is possible that the budget, which has to be adopted prior to July 1, could be approved during one of the work sessions.

Copies of the budget proposal are available for public review at County Manager Lee Smith's office and at the Wayne County Public Library on East Ash Street. It also is available at the county website, www.waynegov.com, under headlines on the left-hand side of the page.

"The Wayne County proposed budget was posted on the county website at www.waynegov.com in order for the public to be better informed about the budget process," Smith said after the meeting. "I learned from one of our citizens today that I had quoted a figure incorrectly. I met with the News-Argus last week to review the upcoming budget presentation and in haste I incorrectly quoted a figure.

"While pointing out savings over the last 10 years of over $30 million in payroll due to reduction in full-time staff from 927 (2003) to 700 (2012), I quoted the budget number incorrectly. I was pointing out the total cost savings over the 10-year period and inadvertently combined the total budget and savings number. Bottom line, the county has saved $30 million since 2003 in payroll costs alone."

The 2012-13 proposal is about $1 million more than the current budget because of the Qualified School Bond payments for the Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle school construction projects. State lottery proceeds will be used 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 proposal continues the county's hiring freeze, except for some shift positions, and does not provide for a salary increase for county employees.

Smith told commissioners that he hopes continued efforts to cut budget costs will allow the county to approve a 2.5 percent pay increase for its employees after the first of the year. It would have to be approved by commissioners.

While the budget lacks a capital improvement plan, there are a number of ongoing projects that will be paid for with cash, he said.

Smith is recommending commissioners delay adopting a long-term capital improvement plan until they develop a priority projects list of all capital projects for the county.

Keen disagreed, particularly where schools are concerned.

"For the last seven years, we have seen a capital improvement plan included in the budget that has given the people of the county an idea of what the board is thinking -- a vision that as we look forward to what we are trying to do and what we plan to do in facilities," he said.

At the board's February planning retreat, commissioners looked at a number of projects that had been in the plan for several years, he said. In particular, he said, was the Wayne County School Board's five-year plan.

"We are at the end of that five-year plan," he said. "As a commissioner, I would again like to see a five-year plan from 2012 up to 2017 from the board of education and see what they have in mind on paper."

Keen said he has been told by some commissioners and school board members that the schools would follow the same plan it had.

"But to me that is not good enough," he said. "It is not good enough for the people of the county to understand that some of the schools are substandard, especially in the rural areas."

Wayne County is "OK for now," and the county has done a good job in accumulating the funds to be able to pay cash for the projects, he said.

"I still think it is very important as a commission for the county's citizens to show a vision, a plan -- a capital improvement plan for five years," Keen said. "To at least lay that vision out. It is 2012 and there are a lot of elections going on in November and not make this political. Make it factual.

"As we move forward, I would like to see in this process over the next two to three weeks a more precise, exact on paper what the schools want to do with their facilities, where they are and if anything has changed."