06/18/13 — Commissioners talk more budget

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Commissioners talk more budget

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 18, 2013 1:46 PM

Suggested cuts to the county's proposed $161 million budget took a back seat to rhetoric Monday as Republicans and Democrats on the Wayne County Board of Commissioners sparred over transportation, hiring a part-time receptionist for the county's Senior Center and increasing funding for the Literacy Connections' adult literacy program and its English as a Second Language program.

Republican Commissioner Joe Daughtery said it did not sit well with him when he visited Literacy Connections and was told that the course for that evening was English as a Second Language.

"If we are going to provide English it should be as our first language, not as our second language," he said.

Daughtery said he asked to whom the agency was providing that service and was told Spanish-speaking people.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said teaching people to speak English helps them to become better and more productive citizens.

"So we should do away with English as our primary language in this county?" Vice Chairman Ray Mayo said.

"Oh, no," Cromartie said. "They are teaching English as a second language, and the way I interpret that is they speak Spanish (at home). So this English as a second language means it is a second language that is in their home. They are learning English."

"It should be mandatory for them to learn English if they want to stay in this country," Mayo said.

Cromartie said he did not disagree and that the county is providing that service and they are learning English.

English as a Second Language is only a small part of what the agency does, Commissioner Bill Pate said.

Daughtery used the exchange to champion limiting the size of government and to question providing services to senior citizens just because they had worked all of their lives.

Daughtery said the Literacy Connections' budget "had exploded."

"I am not saying it is not a worthwhile cause to provide these services, but again the cost is getting up there," he said.

County Manager Lee Smith said the agency had asked for $111,000 from the county, but that he had dropped it to $90,000.

Daughtery suggested that the county cut its contribution to $75,000. Cromartie recommended that it be left at $90,000.

Smith also noted that the county does not charge the agency any rent.

Literacy Connections should be sustaining its own programs, not the county, Daughtery said.

Smith told Commissioner Wayne Aycock that it is not a county department and that if the agency loses the grant funding it now receives, the county would not be liable.

Daughtery and Mayo questioned why Senior Center volunteers wouldn't be suitable receptionists. Daughtery also questioned the more than $100,000 that the Senior Center was proposing to spend on transportation for senior citizens.

Services on Aging Director Eryn McAuliffe said she has numerous dedicated volunteers. However, it is difficult to find one who could commit to working as a receptionist at the same time each day, she said.

Cromartie said a receptionist is one of the most important people with whom the public interacts. As such, it is important to have someone who is consistent and is knowledgeable, he said.

Daughtery called Cromartie's comments a "good example" of a fundamental difference of opinion.

"I am a conservative," he said. "I want to reduce government, not expand it."

The Senior Center is a "great program," Daughtery said, but there has to be a limit to adding government employees. If there isn't, then everybody will end up working for government."

"It is a fundamental difference," he said. "We have been asked to find ways to hold down the expansion of government. (The public has) asked me to anyway."

That prompted Bell to tell Daughtery that he didn't want to hear "that crap."

"It isn't crap. Now just a moment," Daughtery started.

"You spoke, you spoke," Bell continued.

"Mr. Bell has the floor, and we actually need to move on," said Mayo, who was acting as chairman in the absence of Chairman Steve Keen, who is recovering from surgery.

"What I am saying is I want to hear us talk about budget," Bell said. "I don't want to hear anything about conservative or liberal or any of that kind of stuff. Let's talk about the budget. Let's talk about the people of Wayne County."

Cromartie said suggested cuts should be backed by reason and not opinion. That would not only make it clearer for the board, but the public as well.

Mayo said the board needed to keep in mind that the ideas being discussed were suggestions, not demands.

When the board returned to Services on Aging, Ms. McAuliffe said the transportation was funded by grant money, not local tax dollars. It is for county residents over the age of 60 who cannot drive or don't have a car, she said

It doesn't make a difference that grants pay for transportatio. It still isn't free, Daughtery said.

"Thank goodness we are able to afford to do this for the citizens that we are talking about," Cromartie said. "We are talking about those folks who worked all of their life and paid their taxes."

Daughtery said he had heard that argument before.

"That is true," he said. "Most citizens work all of their lives, but as such I don't think there was anything in the Constitution that said once you have worked all of your life that we are to provide all services to you for the remainder of your life.

"So there is a limit here. To me that is not a justification for any service because anyone has toiled and labored through life. Folks we have got to wake up here. There has got to be some limit in regard to the size of government."

Cromartie said he was not talking about giving everyone a "free ride," but rather helping those who need the help.