11/01/12 — Keen: Budget needs sharp look, tax cut

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Keen: Budget needs sharp look, tax cut

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

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Steve Keen

The News-Argus posed three questions to candidates for the Wayne County Board of Commissioners. Following are the responses of Republican District 4 Commissioner Steve Keen who is unopposed in the Nov. 6 general election.

1. The budget is perhaps the biggest duty a commissioner has. What is your assessment of the current budget and tax rate? What are your budget goals and ideas?

The last two years I voted against the budget. There were items in there that I felt like needed to be a little more scrutinized, more discussed to adjust some of the expenditures.

The tax rate, 76.40 down to 70.25 (cents per $100 of value). Some other commissioners suggested it could have been lowered. Absolutely, it could have been lower. The tax rate is still too high.

Budget goals are always to lower the tax rate.

The goals in Wayne County would certainly be to reduce the unemployment rate. Wayne County certainly could use manufacturing. It could do more in job creation.

Overall we don't have a problem with revenue. It is a problem with expenditures, and the spending, and the spending methods that we have gone through.

2. The county has been able to pay cash for recent facilities projects. What are the remaining facilities needs, including schools, and how would you pay for them?

Schools, I have gone on record with schools. The (school system's) five-year (facilities) plan was admirable back in 'o6 and '07, but a new census has shown in 2010 that the demographics of this county have dramatically changed.

Because of the demographics in 2010, the census, we need to look at a new plan. If it is the same plan that we need to keep, then we need to get together and discuss that. I have been an advocate for that very much so because we have substandard schools.

The substandard schools are all over the county, and we need to pay really close attention to that.

How do you pay for them? I can't even talk money until I have a plan. We want to do these projects in schools, but we don't have a plan. Now, we have a five-year plan, but the commissioner are not in line with the board of education. Or the board of education is not in line with the commissioners.

One commissioner suggested that we do a sales tax increase. But if your retail sales are down in our county, how do you get the sales tax?

One suggested a bond referendum. You can't even go there until you understand what you need and how much it is going to cost. Then you go and talk about those. But don't distract the public, or don't confuse the taxpayer in what you need first. You need a plan.

3. What would be your goals and objectives as commissioner?

Wayne County has the opportunity to come to the table at this time with the moves that are taking place in Raleigh. If you look at a lot of what has been happening in the last 10 years in eastern North Carolina there are two stigmas to eastern North Carolina. One is K-12 and the other, believe it or not, is (Hurricane) Fran.

The other one is environmentally, Fran -- the 100-year flood plain moving to a 500-year flood plain.

Agriculture, ditching, you have rules and regulations that have been put together that has really penalized the farmer -- wanting to classify ditches as blue line streams that would hurt development and hurt their grandchildren and their kids wanting to do something with their land in the years to come.

We have got to think regionally. We have got to take our ideas and go to Raleigh because the General Assembly has changed.

We have got to understand the makeup politically, and you can't buck that. You have to collaborate with that. As a commissioner that is what I do. That is what I do best.

Now, I have been left out for the last four years, but if things change politically in Wayne County, I don't intend to do the leaving out because that is not how I operate. That hurts Wayne County.

My goals are to work regionally, and that is what I have been doing. So not being allowed at the table locally has not kept my vision shutdown where I knew that really, the bigger picture is where Wayne County is best served. That is where I am serving.