06/25/13 — County eyeing budget slashing

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County eyeing budget slashing

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 25, 2013 1:46 PM

Nearly $528,000 in additional budget items -- a little more than a penny savings on the county property tax rate -- were on the chopping block this morning when Wayne County commissioners were to have met to adopt the county budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

The initial proposed net budget of $120,127,740 already was $1,161,042 less than the current net budget of $121,288,782.

Commissioners spent nearly five hours Monday afternoon reviewing a tally sheet of suggested additional cuts compiled over two days of budget workshops earlier this month. They indicated that they were not through with their penny pinching, which was scheduled to continue this morning and was expected to include Wayne County Public Schools.

With two notable exceptions -- the Wayne County Public Library and Eastpointe -- commissioners for the most part stuck with the cuts on the tally sheet prepared by County Manager Lee Smith and based on the earlier meetings.

However, Commissioner Joe Daughtery was not satisfied with just $2,000 being cut from the library's maintenance and repairs line item.

He pushed to have another $15,500 chopped from the library budget and was not swayed by an appeal by library Director Donna Phillips not to cut her budget.

Mrs. Phillips said her budget was cut by $12,500 this past year and that her department had to pay for asbestos abatement at the old Belk building in Mount Olive, which is to be renovated to house the town's new library.

She also said she was worried that the cuts would mean the library would not be able to meet the "maintenance-of-effort" standards needed to secure state grants.

County Finance Director Pam Holt said it appeared the library budget would still meet those standards.

The reduction, Daughtery said, was only about one percent of the library's $1.7 million budget.

Daughtery did not cite any reasoning for the cuts other than wanting to give $25,000 to the Arts Council of Wayne County, which was not funded in the original budget proposal.

He included the $25,000 in his motion to cut the library budget, but withdrew it after other commissioners said they would address the Arts Council when they reached that item in the budget.

Daughtery asked that the library cuts include $3,500 that would pay for an update on a strategic studies plan, which includes a library for northern Wayne County. Commissioner Ray Mayo, who represents that part of the county and has advocated for a library there, agreed that the study could be put off for a year.

Daughtery also wanted to cut $12,000 from library materials (books, periodicals, electronic books). The cut will reduce that line item from $222,000 to $210,000.

Daughtery made a motion to make the cuts, but before the vote was taken Commissioner Ed Cromartie offered an amendment to cut just the $2,000. The motion failed 5-2, with Cromartie and Commissioner John Bell voting for it. Daughtery's motion was then approved 5-2 with Bell and Cromartie voting no.

Daughtery later in the meeting made a motion to fund the $25,000 for the Arts Council. But he backed off after Commissioner Steve Keen questioned the funds already available to the Arts Council. Daughtery agreed with Keen to table the request until today to have time to look at the Arts Council's available funding.

Daughtery also made a motion to reduce funding for Literacy Connections, an adult literacy program, from $90,000 to $85,000. Commissioner Ray Mayo offered, then withdrew, an amendment to leave the funding alone.

The board then approved Daughtery's motion 5-2. Bell and Cromartie voted against the cut.

Most of the motions to approve the cuts were approved by 6-1 or 5-2 decisions, with Democrats Bell and Cromartie voting against the Republican-led budget chopping.

There was one exception, a 4-3 vote to reduce funding for the Old Waynesborough Commission from $35,000 to $30,000. Bell and Cromartie were joined by Commissioners Bill Pate and Wayne Aycock to defeat Daughtery's motion to cut the funding. Daughtery, Keen and Mayo voted for the motion.

The defeat was followed moments later by unanimous approval of Cromartie's motion to leave the funding at $35,000.

Commissioners spent more than an hour talking about Eastpointe, the agency that manages mental health services for Wayne and surrounding counties. Mayo and Daughtery noted Wayne County has been funding Eastpointe while surrounding counties had not.

Smith said the money was spent in Wayne County and did not go to other counties. If it is cut, there is no guarantee those services would be available, Smith said.

The agency had originally sought $640,000 in the budget. Smith trimmed the amount to $180,000 before finally eliminating it. During the budget workshops, Smith said he needed to add the $180,000 back to the budget.

Daughtery argued that the way mental health services are provided has changed and that the county should not be paying Eastpointe. Both he and Mayo agreed that Eastpointe also needed to pay rent on the four floors of space it occupies in the county-owned Borden building.

That free rent and utilities have amounted to nearly $750,000 over the past several years, they said.

Cromartie said he was concerned that cutting Eastpointe funding would harm the services county residents receive.

The board voted 5-2 on Daughtery's motion to eliminate the $180,000 and require a two-year lease at $120,000 a year. Bell and Cromartie voted no.

The board completed its tally list and without any transition or explanation, moved into several budget line items not included in their original list, which totaled $460,490 in cuts.

Those items included the Old Waynesborough Commission and the Wayne County Historical Association.

The draft budget included $15,000 for the Historical Association. However, commissioners gave unanimous approval to Keen's motion to increase the funding to $20,000. Keen said the association's museum contained much of the history of the county and should be protected.

Commissioners noted that the cuts, or any additions, are not official until they actually adopt the budget -- something they were expected to do this morning.

The budget proposal reduces the tax rate from 70.25 cents per $100 of property value to 67.5 cents. Commissioners have not said whether or not the additional cuts would translate into another reduction in the tax rate.

Smith noted that two of the county's fire departments, New Hope and Rosewood, are asking for increases in their fire district tax rates. New Hope's rate would increase from 5.46 to 6 cents and Rosewood's from 4.52 to 5.52 cents per $100 in property.