Board talks budget

Published 5:44 pm Thursday, May 20, 2010

Staff Write

Several nonprofit organizations, local economic-development programs, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and Beaufort County Community College are among entities that would feel the budget ax under a proposal submitted by one county commissioner at a Beaufort County Board of Commissioners budget workshop Tuesday.
As promised, Commissioner Hood Richardson presented a list of proposed cuts in the proposed $53.5 million 2010-2011 fiscal year budget for Beaufort County presented to the commissioners last week by County Manager Paul Spruill.
Many of the items on Richardson’s list are among his perennial targets for cuts.
Among his recommendations is a change in the distribution of sales-tax revenues to municipal governments in Beaufort County that would add an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 to county coffers and reduce sales-tax revenues available to cities and towns in the county.
Richardson also proposed a $95,000 cut in funding for economic-development programs, a $30,000 cut in appropriations to the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension Service, a $25,000 cut in funds for forest fire-prevention activities, an $86,000 cut funds for cultural and recreation programs in the county, a $50,000 cut in funding for the Beaufort Area Transportation System, a $20,000 cut in funds for the Boys &Girls Club of Beaufort County, elimination of funding for Pamlico Pals and cutting allocations to the community college and the sheriff’s office by $100,000 each.
He also proposed $240,000 in savings by eliminating six county jobs, but he declined to identify the departments where the loss of jobs would occur.
Richardson’s list was about $1 million short of his goal of $2.1 million in cuts needed to avoid the use of an equal amount of appropriations from county savings — a move Richardson has repeatedly described as unwise.
He challenged his fellow commissioners to each find $188,000 in additional savings before the next budget workshop scheduled for Tuesday, when the commissioners are scheduled to address Richardson’s list along with other budget matters.
“I want to send a strong signal to the public from this budget that we are fiscally responsible,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Cayton suggested a straw vote to remove the community college from the list of targeted reductions.
“If we’re coming out of this recession, it’s going to depend on the community college,” he said. “You’re attacking an institution that is attacked by the state every year.”
The commissioners stuck to their original plan of delaying action on Richardson’s list until next week.
Despite that, the commissioners generally showed an interest in keeping a tight rein on the upcoming budget in a difficult economy.
In one straw vote and in general discussions, the commissioners turned back funding requests from the three chambers of commerce in the county, the Greater Pamlico Chapter of the American Red Cross and Eagle’s Wings.
They expressed approval of a plan to eliminate funding for repairs and maintenance of the bookmobile owned by the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library.
Straw votes are taken during budget workshops to give direction to Spruill and other county staff members in preparing the final version of the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget that will be presented to the commissioners for a vote later this year.
The proposed budget under discussion by the county commissioners includes 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’s tax base. 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 Beaufort County Medical Center’s upcoming $1.57 million debt payment if the hospital is unable to do 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 (for the county) tax rate of 48.2 cents per $100 valuation.
The recommended 2010-2011 budget calls for $612,682 in what Spruill has described as “aggressive cuts” to help offset $916,182 in increased spending and includes only about a third of departmental expansion requests.
However, one item not tapped for funding among the expansion requests — $125,000 for improvements to the 40-year-old elevator in the Beaufort County Courthouse — may need to be addressed before the end of the upcoming fiscal year, Spruill told the commissioners.
“We are not going to be able to run from that expense for the remainder of the year,” Spruill said.
At the heart of much of Tuesday’s discussion is the use of money from the county’s fund balance, or savings, to help balance the 2010-2011 budget, a move that could lead to an increase of 3.5 cents per $100 property-tax valuation effective July 1, 2011.
Richardson said his proposed cuts would reduce that chance.
Among the other items discussed by the commissioners were the tax rates for the county’s special-service districts — including fire and emergency medical service-districts for eight county townships.
Under the tax rates presented by Spruill, each first-responder agency would generally benefit from a 3 percent appropriations increase in the coming fiscal year.