06/20/12 — Few comments on county budget

View Archive

Few comments on county budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 20, 2012 1:46 PM

Other than remarks by the chairman of the Wayne County Republican Party and GOP candidates for county commissioner, there were few comments Tuesday morning during a public hearing on the county's $159 million proposed budget for 2012-13.

And the only comments from the board came from its Republican members. Ray Mayo said that he shared the same concerns voiced by the speakers and Steve Keen renewed his call for the budget to include a capital improvement plan.

"In the upcoming session I will promise you that I will address what your concerns are," Mayo told those who stood to speak.

Commissioners have scheduled budget workshops for Thursday and next Monday. The workshops are open to the public and will begin at 12:30 p.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

The budget has to be adopted prior to July 1 and could be approved during one of the work sessions.

The proposed budget maintains the current tax rate of 70.25 cents per $100 worth of property and does not call for any fee increases.

Keen said he was still concerned about prioritizing the facilities plan for Wayne County Public Schools. A copy of the plan had been given out to board members prior to the meeting.

"It is on paper, but it has not been signed by anyone," he said. "Are we making this a part of the agenda? Or is it to be approved by commissioners?"

Chairman John Bell told Keen the plan had been approved in 2007 and had not changed.

Keen asked if it was a three-year plan, a five-year plan or until it is completed.

Bell said there was no time limit on the plan.

"I think what the paper that was presented to you says that it is in progress until it is completed," said County Attorney Borden Parker. "Unless the Board of Education tells you they want something changed, this will remain its plan."

During a February planning retreat the budget included a capital improvement plan, Keen said.

Keen said that a story in Tuesday's issue of The News-Argus indicated that County Manager Lee Smith had recommended commissioners not adopt a capital improvement plan until the board prioritize the projects.

"We have heard this morning where constituents have a concern about the fund balance -- the monies that are there above and beyond the (required) 8 percent and even up to possibly by the end of this year maybe a balance of about 29 or 30 percent," he said. "So if we look at the same amount of funds that are there, compared to where we were last year -- where are those funds going to be spent this year?"

The Local Government Commission recommends counties keep at least 8 percent of their money in reserve.

What happens, Keen said, if the city asks the county to participate in a museum or a transfer center for GATEWAY?

"Where is that in the budget?" he said. "We have talked about these issues, but it is not in the plan."

Keen said not including the plan "confused" him as a commissioner.

"A concern of mine is that it is cloudy," he said. "As we go through this year where are the funds going?

"When we get together Thursday as a commissioner I would like to see a capital improvement plan put in the budget," he said.

GOP Chairman Bob Jackson said commissioners had held a planning retreat to talk about the budget and other items. He said one commissioner had asked what the county was going to do about variances in wages for county employees compared to those in the private sector.

"It was indicated that the disparity was about 13 percent," Jackson said. "As I recall there was little to no discussion and the meeting went on to another topic. Maybe I could ask the same question, what is to be done about the disparity between the wages of county employees and those of the private sector?"

County officials said they were not familiar with the discussion Jackson was referring to or the 13 percent figure.

Jackson was not specific as to whether the county employees were making more or less than private sector employees. He said that he had understood a 2.5 percent raise was included in the budget.

While such a raise is not included in the budget, Smith has suggested such a scenario is possible if the money to pay for the increase can be found within the budget. Commissioners would have to approve any increase. There has been no across-the-board pay increase for county employees since December 2010.

Jackson also questioned the tax rate and said that it was not revenue neutral as had been promised in light of the recent countywide property revaluation.

"A true revenue neutral rate would be 65 cents on $100 value," he said. "I would certainly like to see us reduce our rate and return some of this reserve fund money, that is apparently much higher than required, to the people of Wayne County. I believe they deserve it. I know they need it in these hard times."

Jackson spoke again later in the meeting during the public comments section when he questioned the budget's reserve fund.

People in the county need to know what the money is allocated for, he said.

"If there is no allocation then let's give it back to the people who paid it," he said. "Can you imagine how many jobs a million dollars back into the economy of Wayne County could create? How about two million? How about five million? Why let it sit there if you have the funds? And if you don't have them then let's explain that to the people of Wayne County that don't understand. If that be the case."

The amount of the unencumbered fund balance is something that the public needs to know, he said.

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