Budget views voiced

Published 4:04 pm Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County commissioners on Monday began staking out positions on County Manager Paul Spruill’s proposed $53.5 million county budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Some members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners called for additional spending cuts to help the county weather continued tough economic times. Others said the county should not make taxpayers “feel good this year” with an artificially low property-tax rate for fiscal year 2010-2011, which begins July 1, only to increase that rate for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Spruill’s recommended budget is the first step in a two-step process that should result in a budget — including a new property-tax rate — that should be approved by the commissioners before June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Final adoption of the 2010-2011 budget likely will be later than usual because of questions concerning a debt payment by Beaufort County Medical Center, Spruill said.
The commissioners will begin discussing their budget recommendations in earnest at a budget workshop scheduled from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Their discussions are scheduled to continue at a second workshop scheduled from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 25.
In his presentation to the board, Spruill recommended a property-tax rate of 52 cents per $100 valuation for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. It is based on a property tax base of about $5.5 billion — an increase of about 29 percent over the current fiscal year. The revenue generated by three cents per $100 valuation of that proposed tax rate would placed in a “Hospital Debt Reserve.” That reserve would be used by the county to make the hospital’s $1.57 million debt payment if the hospital is unable to make that payment.
Without that medical center set-aside, the proposed budget just misses — by eight-tenths of a cent per $100 valuation — Spruill’s targeted revenue-neutral tax rate of 48.2 cents per $100 valuation.
Board Chairman Jerry Langley said the commissioners should not strive for a revenue-neutral tax rate for next fiscal year’s budget if it only means delaying a an increase of 3.5 cents per $100 valuation in the subsequent fiscal year.
“I don’t like making you feel good this year and coming back and slapping you next year,” he said.
Spruill’s recommended budget also includes a $2,191,701 appropriation from county savings to balance the budget.
That move is opposed by Commissioner Hood Richardson, who said the commissioners need to find a way to cut $2.1 million from the recommended budget and keep that money in savings to help the county weather an expected tightening of the economy in the future.
He promised to present his recommended budget cuts at the first budget workshop.
“Believe me, the fatty spending is still there,” he said. “The question is, do you have the backbone, the willpower and the gall to get in here and manage this budget so you don’t have a tax increase.”
Commissioner Al Klemm also called for a conservative approach to the upcoming budget.
“We’re in about as scary a situation as I can imagine because of what might happen next year,” he said.
In other business, the board:
• Voted unanimously to approve a $4.3 million loan from and $100,000 grant application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay for the construction of a new Allied Health Building at Beaufort County Community College.
Under an agreement with the college, the commissioners agreed to seek funding for half the costs of the project with the college pursuing funding for half the cost. With an estimated project cost of about $7.6 million, the county’s share of the project should be about $3.8 million, Spruill said.
The USDA funds are provided as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and will be made available to the county in the form of a 30-year loan at an interest rate of 4 1/8 percent, according to Susan Christensen, a USDA representative who met with the commissioners. The agreement calls for construction to be completed within 36 months, she said. 
• Voted unanimously to approve a resolution presented by Commissioner Robert Cayton. The resolution called for Beaufort County to ask U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., to seek a U.S. Postal Service review of post-office operating hours in Beaufort County.
“The working men and women of Beaufort County are being placed at a disadvantage,” he said. “We need to make sure that the working public has access to the post office.”
• Voted 4-3 to approve a resolution presented by Commissioner Stan Deatherage urging the N.C. General Assembly, Gov. Beverly Perdue and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper to have North Carolina join with 15 other state to challenge, before the U.S. Supreme Court, the constitutionality of the recently approved health-care legislation. Deatherage, Klemm, McRoy and Richardson voted in favor of the resolution. Booth, Cayton and Langley voted against it.
• Voted 4-3 to approve a resolution of support presented by Richardson for a recently approved immigration bill passed by the Arizona state legislature and signed by the Arizona governor.
“It does nothing more than support federal legislation,” Richardson said.
Langley expressed concern that the legislation could lead to civil-rights abuses by state and local law-enforcement officers.
“I can tell you from life experiences, there can be a lot of abuse when we talk about profiling,” he said.
Deatherage, Klemm, McRoy and Richardson voted in favor of the resolution. Booth, Cayton and Langley voted against it.
• Voted unanimously to give the City of Washington the authority to issue fireworks permits within the city limits and within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction for one year.
• Made appointments as follows: Georgia Smallwood to the Beaufort County Board of Social Services; Curtis H. Brown to the Beaufort County Alcohol Beverage Control Board; Cynthia Davis to the BCCC Board of Trustees; Dr. Jennie Crews to the Board of Commissioners of the Beaufort Regional Health System; and Sonya Toman, KiKi Hampton, Patsy Jones, Norm Koestline and Joyce Cutler to the Region Q Workforce Development Board.
• Voted unanimously to approve two water-shortage response plans.
• Voted 6-1 to approve $5,172.95 in travel requests, with Richardson casting the sole dissenting vote.
• Voted 6-1 to approve the consolidated agreement between the state and the Beaufort County Health Department, with Richardson again casting the sole dissenting vote.
• Approved 6-0 a request from Russell Wilkins, pastor of St. John’s Church of Christ, a late request for a reduced property tax rate for an addition at the church. Langley, an associate minister at the church, requested and received permission to abstain from the vote.
All commissioners attended the meeting.
At a meeting earlier in the day, the board voted to appropriate $15,240, which represents 10 percent in matching funds, to the Beaufort County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council for programs for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.