No new budget for Martin

Published 10:05 am Sunday, July 1, 2007

By Staff
WILLIAMSTON — A new snag may block the county’s efforts for Medicaid relief from the state.
According to Martin County Manager Russell Overman, the state General Assembly is considering giving counties the authority to implement a new tax to compensate for the cost counties bear in operating the state welfare program.
A land transfer tax would have to be approved by referendum, Overman said.
Commissioner Ronnie Smith considered the taxing option a trade-off in order to get the much-needed relief.
Wealthier counties, Smith said, aren’t as burdened by the cost of Medicaid.
Supporting the land-transfer taxing capability, “won’t hurt us,” Smith said. “The larger counties don’t care about Medicaid relief, so they’re looking for a plus. … That’s the trade-off.”
Hurst said he didn’t want to trade $10 for $1.
Commissioners called the meeting Saturday to review the General Assembly’s budgeting progress. Wednesday, the Board of Commissioners approved an interim budget in order to hold out on a final budget for 2007-2008 until Medicaid relief had been determined.
Overman told commissioners Saturday that state budget makers haven’t settled on anything except that the General Assembly needs more time.
Martin County’s interim budget fixes spending at levels set in the 2006-2007 fiscal year.
Commissioners intend for the 2007-2008 spending plan to reflect how much relief from Medicaid costs the county gets.
Overman recommended the interim budget in case counties don’t see relief this fiscal year or see more than anticipated.
No Medicaid relief would create a $1.5 million gap between Martin County’s proposed spending and earnings. To balance the new fiscal year’s budget, commissioners would have to raise taxes, cut back on proposed increases — education is tentatively earmarked to receive a 10 percent increase in local money — or find another source of revenue.
On Wednesday, commissioners said they wouldn’t be approving a budget that raises the current tax rate, which the interim budget maintains at 78.5 cents per $100 valuation.
Overman said Saturday if raising taxes wasn’t an option, an interim budget wasn’t necessary. Commissioners opposed that recourse at Wednesday’s meeting.
The county manager said the commissioners could approve a final budget as proposed with specific direction on spending while the state tweaks its Medicaid relief plans.
If a line item called for an increase, commissioners could direct the county manager to forgo the increase or pay half of it until the county realized relief from the state.
Commissioners opposed the new spending strategy and kept the interim budget in place.
Overman said his staff could continue to operate under the interim budget or under a final budget with restrictions.
Smith said he had enough information to make a motion to adjourn.