Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery on Friday said he does not know what the alternative will be if the county is unable to find money in the budget for teacher supplements.
“I have all the confidence in the world in our staff and in our county manager to produce us a balanced budget by cutting spending or increasing revenues that will accommodate the teacher supplement,” Daughtery said. “I think we will be pleasantly surprised on Wednesday — I hope so.
“What the alternative is, I am not sure right now. I just know that we need to increase teacher supplements in our county so that we are competitive in regards to attracting and retaining teachers. That is just critical for our education.”
Daughtery was referring to a 10:30 a.m. Wednesday meeting when County Manager Craig Honeycutt will lay out options for funding the increase in teacher supplements without a tax increase.
The public meeting will be held in the commissioners’ meeting room on the fourth floor of the Wayne County Courthouse Annex.
“We will look at options,” Honeycutt said. “We have clear directions not to look at a tax increase.”
The county is conservative with its revenue estimates, and those will get another look, he said.
“We are looking at departmental cuts as well,” Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt said he could not comment further other than to say commissioners will have options to consider on Wednesday.
At a Tuesday meeting, commissioners did not indicate what they would do if the money could not be found elsewhere.
However, Commissioners Joe Gurley, Wayne Aycock and Bill Pate, who could not attend the meeting but joined in by phone, said they would not vote for a tax increase.
Depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, it is possible commissioners could approve the budget, said Gurley, who is the board chairman.
If not, the board meets again June 18. Commissioners have until the end of June to approve a budget and adopt a tax rate.
Honeycutt’s initial budget proposal did not include the supplement or tax increase.
That changed during a May 29 budget workshop when the board by a 4-3 vote approved Daughtery’s motion instructing Honeycutt to increase the tax rate by 1.5 cents per $100 worth of property.
Daughtery’s motion specified that revenue from 1 cent of the increase be used to increase supplements for classroom teachers. It would result in about $400 to $425 in a teacher’s supplement, he said.
A penny on the tax rate equates to approximately $825,000 that would need to be found for the supplements.
Revenue from the remaining half cent would be used to help offset a projected 1.8 cent tax increase that will be needed in two years to help pay down some $6 million in new debt in Honeycutt’s proposal.
Daughtery and Commissioners John Bell, Ed Cromartie and Ray Mayo voted for the motion. Gurley, Aycock and Pate voted no.
It also was Daughtery’s motion on Tuesday that delayed action on the increase to give Honeycutt time to try to find the money in his proposed budget.
The delay came in the face of overwhelming opposition — mostly from the agriculture industry — to the increase during the hourlong public hearing on the budget.
Proposing a tax increase during a revaluation year amounts to a “double whammy,” Jim Lynch, who was representing Goldsboro Milling Co., said at the hearing.
He was one of nine opponents, most of whom were farmers, to speak at the hearing.
They argued that the farm community is still struggling to rebuild in the wake of Hurricanes Matthew and Florence and that now is not the time for an increase.
Several noted that their taxes will go up even without a tax increase because of higher property values brought on by the recent countywide property revaluation and the fact that Honeycutt’s original proposal kept the tax rate at 66.35 cents per $100 worth of property tax value.
State law requires the revaluation once every eight years and that a revenue neutral tax rate be published — meaning the county would collect the same amount of taxes that it did in the current year.
Commissioners are not required to adopt a revenue-neutral tax rate, which in this case would be 64.98 cents per $100 value.
Gurley said that even keeping the current tax rate would amount to a 1.4 to 1.5 cent tax increase.
That expected $1.4 million in new money was rolled into the budget as a revenue stream, since the county is facing a 6 percent increase in health insurance and a state-mandated increase of $440,000 in retirement benefits, he said.
“Here is the one that we need to be proud of is that this year we pulled out of fund balance less than what we did in the last two years by far,” Gurley said. “That (added tax revenue) offset the fund balance. We gave Craig instructions to try to find the money so that we can give a supplement increase.
“It may not be 1 percent. It might be 0.95 percent. It might be 0.85 percent. It could be 1 percent, I don’t know. We told him to see what he could do to find money. He has asked department heads to go in and try to find more cuts, and we will just have to wait and see what other options that he may have as well.”
One commissioner told Honeycutt to re-examine revenue projections, particularly sales tax and from EMS collections, Gurley said.
“When Craig was talking about the new company that was going to increase the (EMS fee) collection rates by, I think he said 20 percent, I cautioned him,” Gurley said. “I told him I don’t think I would be that brave. I would get me a year behind (in collections) and make sure.
“I have seen those collections for too many years. A 20 percent increase is very bold. I hope he is right. I hope they can, but you are basing it on the population and it’s based on who has insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, self-pay. You start getting above 65 percent (collection) rate, you are doing really well.”
Daughtery’s motion to delay the vote did not address the other half cent of his original motion.
However, Gurley said that the board’s instructions to Honeycutt was just for teacher supplements and not the other half penny that Daughtery had wanted to apply toward future debt.
Gurley reserved comment on saying whether or not he thinks the money will be found for the supplement increase.
“I want to see what kind of options Craig lays out there and what the (revenue) projections are,” he said. “When you start talking about increasing sales tax and start increasing collection rates by 20 percent, that is very risky, very risky.
“I cautioned everybody on that one. I am only one commissioner, but that is my opinion.”