04/25/06 — Duplin will eye funds available for budget

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Duplin will eye funds available for budget

By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 25, 2006 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Outgoing Duplin County Manager Fred Eldridge presented a balanced budget to the county Board of Commissioners earlier this month, but he did so with some trepidation.

Eldridge told the commissioners that he had prepared a proposed budget based on their directions but that he was not confident that the proposed budget would best serve the county in the long run.

"I do not believe it is a budget that is in the long-term financial interest of Duplin County," Eldridge said.

Eldridge announced in early March that he would resigned May 4. A public hearing on the county's proposed budget is scheduled for May 1.

Eldridge said he had taken into account the commissioners' requests in drafting the proposed budget, including reducing emergency medical service stations and removing capital expenditure requests. Still, as proposed, the county's fund balance would dip below 9 percent of the total budget if it is adopted as offered. If the fund balance goes below 8 percent, he said, state officials likely would step in to ensure the county's financial stability.

After four budget sessions, Eldridge said he was not clear on the direction in which commissioners wanted him to go.

"I'm somewhat at a loss," he said. "It's not a budget that this county should adopt."

Commissioner Arliss Albertson echoed Eldridge's concerns.

"This is the most irresponsible budget I've ever seen. That's no reflection on management. That's a reflection on us," Albertson said.

Albertson said commissioners need to consider raising taxes if that is what is necessary. Duplin's current tax rate is 77 cents per $100 worth of property.

Although Albertson is up for re-election this year, he said he would do what his conscious told him was best for the county, whether or not it will hurt him at the polls.

"It's an election year, but I don't care," Albertson said. "I want to do what's right, and this is certainly not right."

Commissioner Chairman Zettie Williams said the responsibility for the budget now lies in the hands of the commissioners.

"You did exactly what we asked you to do," she told Eldridge. "Now, it's left up to us."

Commissioner L.S. Guy said he could not understand the indecision on the part of commissioners regarding the budget.

"We've sat down together four times in marathon sessions," Guy said.

Among the departments that have met with commissioners and sought more money was Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace, who said he does not have enough money in his budget to adequately patrol the county, one of the state's largest. He said the courthouse needs more bailiffs and is "an accident waiting to happen."

Officials with James Sprunt Community College, the county Firemen's Association and the Register of Deeds Office also have met with commissioners, seeking additional funding.