05/28/14 — Commissioners schedule hearing on spending plan

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Commissioners schedule hearing on spending plan

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 28, 2014 1:46 PM

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Wayne County commissioners Ed Cromartie, left, and Wayne Aycock review the proposed $136 million 2014-15 fiscal year budget Tuesday morning.

Wayne County commissioners had few questions Tuesday for Interim County Manager George Wood as he presented his $136 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2014-15. Even agencies that last year were the center of contentious debate failed to generate any comment.

However, it is early yet -- commissioners won't hold their first full-blown budget workshop until after next Tuesday's budget public hearing.

The public hearing is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex. The workshop will follow later in the day. Commissioners said they didn't want to hold any work sessions until after hearing from the public.

Copies of the budget proposal are available at Wood's office, on the county website at waynegov.com, and at the public libraries in Goldsboro and Mount Olive. Copies will also be placed in the Fremont and Pikeville libraries.

The proposed budget maintains the current tax rate of 66.65 cents per $100 of appraised property value. There are no fee increases.

There are no salary increases for employees, but the proposal does provide a $500 bonus for most full-time county employees who work 40 hours a week. That adds $500,000 to the budget. If approved, the bonuses would be paid in September.

The draft budget maintains current funding levels for the public schools -- $2 million for capital outlay and $18.2 million for current expense.

The current expense for the schools also includes a $131,734 supplemental appropriation. Over the past several years, a fund balance of $526,936 has accrued in the current expense fund. That balance will be distributed as supplemental funding over the next four years.

Wood said his proposal assumes little growth, about 1.5 percent in sales tax revenues and about 0.7 percent in the property tax base.

One factor that probably won't be known until after the budget is approved later in June is how the county could be affected by state budget cuts.

Of particular concern is how the state has shifted lottery proceeds away from school construction to other areas in education.

Returning the level of lottery funding for school construction is the No. 1 goal this year of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.

The state's elimination of average daily membership (ADM) funds has hurt the county as well, Wood said.

Combined, the county is losing more than $2.5 million annually because of the cuts that could be used for school construction, he said. That would be enough for the county schools to fully pay for new middle schools in the Grantham and Spring Creek communities without having to rely on the county budget.

The county Board of Education has committed to using sales tax and lottery proceeds to pay $2.2 million annually for the two new middle schools. Any difference would be absorbed by the county. If the state were to reduce the lottery funds even more, Wood said, it would mean that the county would have to pull more from the general fund.

Wood said that while his proposal is about $15 million less than the current amended budget of $151 million, that residents should not mistakenly think he had cut that much from the budget or that the county is cutting services

The difference is due mainly to one-time items that are in the current budget, he said. For example, $4.7 million of that reduction is in the county's cable TV franchise fund. The county also has set aside $2 million for its proposed regional agriculture center. The remainder is being used for the county radio system.

Another $2.1 million is in the Facilities Department. The county had earmarked $5.9 million in the current budget, but only used $3.8 million.

Other examples include $1.8 million in the economic development expenses line item. The county received the one-time $1.8 million from North Carolina's Eastern Region. It is county money that was being held by the region.

In terms of basic operations, there is not a great deal of difference between the current and proposed budgets, Wood said.

"We have not cut back any services. Everything should pretty much stay like it is. There should be no decrease in services.

"In fact there will actually be one increase in service, pretty substantial, and of course that is the big improvement in Mount Olive with the library."