By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 26, 2013 1:46 PM
Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery, left, leans over to hear a comment from fellow Commissioner Ray Mayo before they voted to approve the budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The budget reduced funding for many community programs.
Chairman Steve Keen votes against a budget amendment to fund the Arts Council of Wayne County during Tuesday's meeting.
A new $160 million county budget that slices 3.6 cents off the property tax rate was adopted by Wayne County commissioners Tuesday afternoon in a 5-2 vote.
In a second vote later in the meeting, the board approved a nearly $258 million capital improvement plan that would force the county to increase property taxes by up to almost 13 cents within the next seven years if all of the work is done.
The original budget proposal considered by commissioners would have reduced the tax rate from 70.25 cents per $100 of property value to 67.5 cents. The budget approved Tuesday further cut the rate to 66.65 cents.
Also, the new budget increases the landfill tipping fee from $30 per ton to $31.50 to cover expenses associated with a new electronics recycling program and changes in the overall recycling program.
There were no other fee increases.
The budget vote followed a two-hour morning session as commissioners looked for additional cuts on top of the ones suggested in earlier work sessions.
The changes led Commissioner Ed Cromartie to question whether or not additional public comment was required before a vote.
County Attorney Borden Parker said the required public hearing on the budget proposal was held last week. The law does not require that another be held even if the budget changes after the hearing, he said.
Cromartie and Commissioner John Bell voted against the new budget.
"I cannot in good faith vote for this budget," Bell said. "This is my 13th budget, and I think over the past 10 to 12 years we have done a pretty good job in keeping Wayne County positioned pretty solid. Some of the cuts that we have made, I think, are unnecessary and in a sense are unethical in my opinion."
Commissioner Wayne Aycock said the board has had to make "tough decisions" and that he hoped they were the right ones.
"But I felt like it was necessary that we had to adjust some of the figures we did adjust," Aycock said. "I think that everything that we have done was for the better for Wayne County."
Commissioner Joe Daughtery said it had been a "hard effort" to comb through the budget line item by line item to try to find a way to save money.
"The bottom line is that the purpose of this budget, and everything that we are doing, ultimately our goal is to create jobs and put people back to work," Commissioner Ray Mayo said.
Daughtery, as has been the case in previous budget sessions, offered the majority of suggested cuts.
On Monday, he was successful in getting $17,500 cut from the county library budget in order to champion funding $25,000 for the Arts Council of Wayne County. Bell and Cromartie voted against the library cuts.
The $25,000 allocation was tabled until Tuesday morning, when it was approved.
However, Daughtery failed to garner any support when he made a motion to cut in half the county's $220,000 allocation for the WATCH (Wayne Action Teams for Community Health) program, which provides health care for uninsured county residents. It operates a mobile unit and a clinic at the Family YMCA.
Daughtery questioned why the funding had doubled in the recent past.
County Manager Lee Smith said WATCH had been receiving $100,000 a year from the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation. That funding ended, and Wayne Memorial Hospital and the county put up the money to make up the difference.
"The reason for the hospital was to keep people out of the ED (emergency department) and the other was the Health Department just to keep our numbers down because (WATCH sees) over 10,000 patients," Smith said. "We could not see an additional 10,000 in our Health Department -- no way. So that it is why we did it."
The WATCH program has saved the county millions of dollars, he added.
It was then that Daughtery made his motion to reduce the funding to $110,000.
That drew a quick response from Bell.
"I would like for Mr. Daughtery to explain why," Bell said. "Did you hear Mr. Smith explain? This WATCH program has helped us in the Health Department and kept people out of the emergency room.
"All kinds of good deals have come out of WATCH -- good deals for the working poor who don't have insurance. That is what WATCH is all about. I can go along with it if you can explain why you want to cut it."
Daughtery said his only comment to Bell was that the funding level had been around $110,000 and that it was only recently that it had risen to $220,000.
Also, WATCH has a fund balance of $571,000, he pointed out.
"They certainly can sustain themselves. I just feel like we need to reduce that to $110,000," Daughtery said.
Commissioner Bill Pate asked if reducing the funding that much would affect WATCH's accreditation.
"Yes," Smith said. "It is going to hit several areas. I think they are going to have to reduce services because we have volunteers, but we also have some paid folks.
"I think it puts the program in jeopardy. But it is a board decision."
Daughtery again mentioned the WATCH fund balance. However, Smith said WATCH did not actually have $500,000 to draw from. Some of that money is restricted, he said.
Daughtery then withdrew his motion and Mayo made a motion to leave the $220,000 intact. Mayo also said the county's municipalities need to be asked to contribute to the program.
The motion was unanimously approved.
Daughtery said he understands WATCH will begin billing Medicaid.
"I would ask that they be put on notice to try to wean themselves off from funds from the county," he said.