Budget Prompts Concerns
Second thoughts about the proposed 2010-2011 budget emerged Thursday evening during a work session of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
The board took no action to change the budget recommended by County Manager Cary McSwain but did discuss several areas of concern.
Commissioner Nick Picerno raised questions about personnel reductions, cuts in the budget for the Sheriff's Office and a proposal to reduce the early tax payment discount from 2 percent to 1 percent. He also pointed out that budgets for both the schools and the college still contain longevity pay while the county has changed its longevity policy to a more modest level.
"I'm concerned about changing something that's been working so well," Picerno said about the proposal to cut in half the early payment discount.
Picerno said it was not the concept of reducing the number of positions that bothers him but he doesn't like the way it was carried out.
"The process really upsets me, the way we handled it," he said, adding that he thinks the board should reinstate those four positions.
As for cuts in the sheriff's budget, Picerno said that with crime and drug abuse on the rise, now is not the time to "take deputies off the road" and put them in the -courthouse to fill in for part-time bailiffs handling mandated services for the courts.
Earlier in the meeting, Tax Administrator Wayne Vest told the board that in a typical year, the county collects about 55 percent of the property tax levy by the end of August, the final date on which the discount applies.
The collection usually totals more than $20 million.
Of that total, early payments reap an estimated $550,000 saving for taxpaying early birds. If the discount were cut to 1 percent, the loss to county coffers would be reduced to about $225,000.
The discount encourages taxpayers to submit payments early in the new fiscal year, a factor that provides a boost to the county treasury at a time when revenue is scarce. The county won't enjoy another heavy inflow until December.
But the $225,000 saving if the discount were halved is attractive when budget makers are trying to save every penny and are making dire cuts in all areas of the budget.
Picerno had a different perspective and pointed out that cutting the discount would equal a tax rate increase for early taxpayers. He also expressed concern that the reduction would have a negative effect on mortgages because a high proportion of the early payments comes from mortgage companies, which will hike payments due from their clients.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan agreed with Picerno on the personnel reduction issue.
"The last thing we should do is balance the budget by cutting people," Morgan said.
Commissioner Larry Caddell questioned the wisdom of a proposal to withhold payment of $9,000 in annual dues to the School of Government, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to which the county often turns for advice and interpretation of legal issues.
"We probably get our money's worth in legal services with the School of Government," Caddell said.
McSwain had suggested restoration of the dues to the budget and said the addition of the $9,000 could be accomplished without changing the budget figures.
Vest reported one other source of reduced revenue for the new budget year.
Because of the recession, people are keeping their old cars longer and not buying new ones, resulting in a reduction in overall vehicle evaluation, thus reducing the amount from $716 million last year to $680 million.
The $84.9 million general fund budget prepared by McSwain reflects a decrease of almost 5 percent. It retains the existing tax rate of 46.5 cents per $100 property valuation. It would reduce the budget requests by the public schools and Sandhills Community College by 3 percent each, although the school allocation includes an increase over the previous year's allocation. It contains no raises for county employees.
The commissioners plan to adopt the new budget at their June 7 meeting.
Contact Florernce Gilkeson by e-mail at email@example.com.
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