County Board Delays Vote on New Budget
Action on the 2011-12 budget was stalled Tuesday night when the Moore County Board of Commissioners decided to delay a decision until a future meeting.
Factors leading to the delay ranged from uncertainty about the state budget to last-minute cost-cutting proposals debated during the three-hour meeting. But the major contributing factor was the sudden illness of Commissioner Jimmy Melton, who left the meeting during a 10-minute break.
Chairman Nick Picerno suggested that the board delay its decision until all five commissioners could be present to vote. A special meeting called for June 16 was later canceled, and the budget will be returned to the agenda at the next regular meeting on June 21.
It was the dilemma of the Moore County school system and the sharp reduction in state funding that dominated the discussion.
Superintendent Susan Purser acknowledged that the budget adopted Saturday by the N.C. General Assembly provides funds in some areas, but she explained that the state budget eliminates huge sums needed to finance other essential services.
“They put it in with one hand but take it away with the other hand,” Purser said.
Purser said that under the state budget, the county school system stands to lose $8.2 million in funding, necessitating the elimination of 120 positions, including teachers.
The state budget also adds five days to the current 180-day school year, but Purser pointed out that the legislature did not provide funds to cover the cost of those five new days.
Purser said the administration has closed one school, consolidated bus routes and changed class schedules in efforts to save as much as possible. Now, under the state budget, the county will be responsible for the cost of replacing school buses as well.
“We have trimmed, and we have trimmed everywhere we could, and now we can’t trim without touching the classroom,” Purser said.
Commissioner Tim Lea suggested that the board delay its decision until the state budget is nailed down, just in case changes are made that would improve the public school funding situation.
As of early Thursday, Gov. Beverly Perdue had not signed the budget, and there are rumors that she may veto the document. An alternative would be for the governor to let the budget sit for 10 days without veto or signature, in which case the budget would take effect on July 1 but without her blessing.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in Raleigh,” Lea said.
Lea said he would like more time to make sure about the contents of the state budget.
He said that the county might not be able to restore all the lost teaching positions but added that he would like the opportunity to work further on the issue.
Lea expressed appreciation for the cooperation of the school administration in making such severe budget cuts throughout the economic recession.
Fellow commissioners reported on conversations with local legislators and said they expect no changes at the state level.
“I feel confident that Raleigh pretty much knows what it’s going to do,” Picerno said of the legislative temperament.
During the budget discussion, Picerno and Lea presented new ideas for fellow board members to consider.
Lea had asked the county administration to prepare comparative figures for longevity pay and performance-based pay. The information was presented Tuesday night but no action was taken.
Picerno had developed a series of ideas for further budget cuts that would reduce the General Fund to below the $85 million total included in the budget prepared by County Manager Cary McSwain. His proposal would keep the tax rate at the existing level but would reduce the General Fund total by an estimated $275,000.
One change proposed by Picerno would provide for a 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise for employees, with the money coming from elimination of eight vacant positions.
He pointed out that although the county has eliminated a number of positions during the recession, no one has been fired or laid off. Positions eliminated have either been those unfilled or left vacant by attrition.
No action was taken on the Picerno proposal, which did not reach the other commissioners until the hour of the Tuesday meeting.
Also under discussion was a request by McSwain to hire a budget manager to work on budget issues year-round, including economic and financial factors and demographic trends.
But the commissioners were wary of adding a position in the current economic climate. The new position would carry a salary of about $72,000 a year.
McSwain said there is one vacancy in the finance office and these duties are being handled by two part-time employees. McSwain said the budget manager position would fill that vacancy, the cost approximating that of the two part-time employees, and thus would not add to the budget.
This subject likewise went nowhere.
The budget recommended by McSwain holds the tax rate at the existing level of 46.5 cents per $100 property valuation. The advanced life support tax rate (for emergency medical services) also remains unchanged at two cents.
A few minor adjustments have been made since the budget was presented at a May 3 meeting, but the overall figures remain essentially unchanged. The General Fund totals $85 million, including $25.5 million in current expense funding for the school system — the same level provided in the current year budget.
The Board of Education had asked for a $3 million increase to help offset state budget cuts.
The budget public hearing was held during the May 17 meeting, and the commissioners have also held a series of work sessions on the budget.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
More like this story