Board Split in Adopting County Budget
The 2011-12 budget adopted Tuesday by county commissioners makes about $100,000 in adjustments to the General Fund as originally proposed by the county manager.
With the changes, the General Fund drops below the original $85 million. That reflects a reduction in the budget increase from 15 percent to 7 percent, according to Chairman Nick Picerno.
No further cuts were made in the public school budget, and the property tax rate remains the same at 46.5 cents per $100 valuation.
The 3-1 vote was taken after a lengthy and sometimes fractious discussion of a series of changes made during the meeting.
Commissioner Tim Lea cast the dissenting vote. He also voted against three of the changes. Commissioner Jimmy Melton is recuperating from a medical procedure and was unable to attend the meeting.
"I want to thank the chairman for allowing all of us to consider these changes - despite our differences of opinion," Lea said shortly before the vote.
Picerno and Lea did not see eye to eye on several of the changes.
Among the issues were the hiring of a supervisor for Moore County Transportation Services, longevity and membership in the National Association of Counties.
The largest single item not included in the budget was $72,357 to hire a budget director to assist County Manager Cary McSwain with year-round work on budget issues. Other changes affect Veterans Service and the Department of Social Services, and a few minor changes were made in other departments.
The veterans' budget item does not reduce that small department's budget but does eliminate a proposed new part-time resource position. The social services change will be absorbed into that agency's budget.
It was the transportation supervisor position that prompted the most vigorous exchange between Lea and Commissioner Larry Caddell. Their debate lasted so long that Caddell called the question and asked for a vote. Picerno had made the motion to delete the $46,777 position, with Commissioner Craig Kennedy making the second.
Picerno's objections were based on his desire to discontinue taxpayer support for such services.
Social Services Director John Benton said the agency should have sufficient resources to pay for the supervisor without using county tax money. He said 75 percent of the money would come in the form of fees paid by participating agencies and passengers, and the other 25 percent would come from a grant.
Benton, whose department uses the transportation service, said a supervisor is needed to handle such things as safety inspections and public relations.
Lea's motion to restore the position because it would use no local tax money died for lack of a second.
Asked who pays the fees, Benton recited a list of public agencies, such as the Department of Aging and his own department, and such nonprofits as the Coalition for Human Care and St. Joseph of the Pines.
But Picerno argued that just because the money is not Moore County taxpayers' doesn't mean that it isn't public funds because it comes from taxes paid by everyone to the state and federal governments.
Lea pointed out that by refusing to accept the grant, the county would not be getting any return on the tax money paid by Moore County residents to the state and federal governments.
"Why are we not doing it for other grants?" Lea asked.
Even after the 3-1 vote was taken, their exchange continued.
"Just because we receive free money doesn't mean it's free money," Picerno said.
By declining to join the National Association of Counties (NACo), the board is probably singling out Moore County as the only county in North Carolina not joining the association. The dues would come from the governing body line item in the budget.
The board did make one addition to the governing body line item by agreeing unanimously to award a pay raise to its clerk, Laura Williams. The raise was discussed in closed session prior to the regular meeting, and Picerno announced that agreement had been reached that Williams was entitled to the raise, which was a provision of the agreement made when she was appointed.
The new budget, which goes into effect July 1, retains the present advanced life support tax rate of 2 cents per $100 valuation. The overall budget, totaling $124 million, encompasses special budgets and enterprise budgets, such as public utilities.
Also approved as part of the budget action are budgets and tax rates for each of the 16 special fire and/or rescue districts and fee schedules for county departments.
McSwain presented the budget proposal in early May, and the public hearing was held later that month. In the meantime, the commissioners held a series of workshops to discuss aspects of the budget.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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