Picerno Presents 'Upbeat" Report on County Finances
"Recent accomplishments, current county projects and future challenges" were some of the topics addressed by County Commissioner Nick Picerno at the Moore County Chamber of Commerce's "State of the County" program Wednesday.
The event was held during a meeting and luncheon at the Pinehurst Member's Club in Pinehurst. Picerno was the keynote speaker.
"As we look around the country and try to decipher how to evaluate information surrounding an economic recovery, we realize that the recovery is both relatively slow and somewhat tenuous " said Ken Lewis, president of FirstCarolinaCare In-surance Company and a Chamber board member, in his opening remarks. "Today our discussion is focused on what Moore County's current and future prospects are, to ensure Moore County remains a great place to live, work and play."
Lewis introduced Picerno, who began his talk by asking all to remember those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.
"We were spared, although we remember what it was like when Hurricane Fran passed through in 1996," he said. "We know people are suffering, but the gracious Lord provides healing. Prayer works."
Picerno then discussed the economic status of the county.
"The current unemployment rate is at 9 percent, compared with the state rate of around 9.6 percent," he said. "This has been trending up from a low of 8.4 percent in April.
"The Department of Social Services has seen food stamp participation at around 4,700 families over the past three months. The good news is that it seems to have leveled off."
Picerno offered a "quick snapshot" of how local government works for its citizens.
"When you leave today I want you to have a feel for how Moore County government manages our place in the world," he said. "Our proposed budget was around $99 million in the general fund. We had numerous capital project needs in the county, and our property tax bills were in an uptrend. We are working hard to make Moore County government work for the people of Moore."
Picerno said that the county faces capital needs "in challenging economic times."
"The board of commissioners has put financial policies in place to address the economic times we face," Picerno said. "We addressed the overcrowding problem in our detention center with the construction of a $27.2 million facility, which consists of a 192-bed expansion. This will bring the inmate capacity to 260.
"It will also provide space for the Sheriff's Office and its 76 employees. They are currently occupying the basement of our court facility. The building will also house a new 911 and emergency operations center.
"As taxpayers, you finished paying for the expansion in March 2011."
Picerno said the detention center is scheduled for completion next month.
He also pointed out that the county's debt rating has been upgraded.
"Moore County cut the property tax rate in the 2009-2010 budget, saving the county's citizens about $2 million a year on their property tax bills," he said. "We have cut spending in the general fund from an adopted budget of nearly $100 million in the 2008-2009 budget to $82 million in actual expenditures in the tax year ending in 2011.
"We have actually cut taxpayer-supported debt in the last four years by some $10 million, and that includes the debt incurred to build the public safety center. Contrast this with Washington D.C., where they borrow money to pay other debts. That's like taking money from one credit card to pay off another one."
Picerno said the county "has continued its commitment to education" by funding the Moore County Schools at levels requested by the school board.
"We have a tremendous working relationship with the school board," Picerno said. "Moore County spends approximately 36 percent of its entire budget on current education expenses, and that figure is close to 45 percent if you include the education debt service. By formulating such a great relationship, we don't have surprises at budget time."
Picerno said county government is taking the initiative to make Moore "business friendly."
"We are investing in new initiatives to cultivate and support entrepreneurship," Picerno said. "We are also investing in community health and the future of farming by expanding opportunities in agricultural education at Sandhills to preserve the farmers we now have in the county. Agriculture is one of the largest, if not the largest, industry in Moore County."
Picerno said that the "quality of life" brings people to the county.
"If we have a vibrant community, we will continue to grow," he said. "You have to be either 'dying or growing,' and can't afford to have a 'we've got what we need' mindset.
"That's why we have to protect our quality of life here in Moore County."
Picerno thanked his fellow commissioners for their commitment to the county.
"The board has worked hard to refine the role of local government, to prioritize its spending, and to protect those things that we as Moore County citizens value," he said. "I am very honored to have been a commissioner for the past four years, and if the election goes like I hope it will, then I hope to go for another four."
Patrick J. Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, said he was "very pleased" with the program.
"The mood of the meeting was upbeat, and it was encouraging to hear positive news about the status of the county," Coughlin said. "I heard one person say that he wished he'd had a surplus of funds like the county does. We had reservations for 125 persons, making it one of the best attended events we have had."
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or jlentz@thepilot. com.
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