‘Austere’ budget scrutinized ahead of ‘difficult year’

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Faced with declining revenues and the prospect of significant cuts in state appropriations, county leaders Monday searched a budget request from Beaufort County Community College for any savings they could find.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners met with the BCCC Board of Trustees on the BCCC campus to hear the college’s request for funds for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

It was the first of what is expected to be several meetings by county leaders with local agencies to discuss appropriations from county coffers in several budget workshops in the weeks ahead.

BCCC asked the county for $2.2 million for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, an increase of $68,704, or 3.2 percent, over the 2010-2011 budget.

BCCC President David McLawhorn described BCCC’s proposed budget as “austere” and a list of “needs” rather than “wants.”

County Manager Paul Spruill and the commissioners eyed the request for items to cut.

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure within our budget process to try to accomplish a flat appropriation or near flat appropriation,” Spruill said. “The college has never had a lot of fat … and this budget request is no different.”

BCCC asked the county for an increase of $29,704, or 1.53 percent, in its current-expense budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year over the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

That request č which totals $1,973,949 č includes a $23,648 increase in salaries and benefits for college employees, mainly attributable to the projected increase in health-insurance premiums and retirement contributions approved by state lawmakers.

Like other groups across North Carolina that receive state funds, BCCC is waiting to learn the fate of a proposal made earlier this year by Gov. Beverly Perdue to pass on worker’s-compensation costs to local governments.

BCCC officials estimate that paying for worker’s-compensation coverage would cost the college an additional $75,000 č an amount not included in the BCCC budget request but needed if the cost is passed back to the college.

BCCC’s list of construction projects č a total of $229,000 in its capital budget request č is $39,000, or 20.53 percent, more than the current fiscal year.

This includes $80,000 in repairs to the roof of Building 2, which houses BCCC’s Business Division (including several computer laboratories), $25,000 in repairs to concrete steps outside of Building 5 and repairs to several heating and air-conditioning units.

With work on the Building 2 roof repairs not scheduled to begin until June 2012, Spruill asked BCCC leaders if they would be satisfied with a “staged funding” agreement that would appropriate $10,000 for design work for the project and delay appropriating the remainder until after the audit of county books, later in the fiscal year.

A similar process was used to pay for repairs to the roof of Building 8, which houses BCCC’s Division of Continuing Education.

“That’s a process that I’m not afraid of,” Spruill said.

College officials agreed.

“I see no reason why we can’t go through that again,” said BCCC trustee Shields Harvey. “It’s an excellent approach.”

Spruill is scheduled to present his 2011-2012 fiscal-year budget recommendations to the commissioners for their review May 9.

That budget document could include a recommendation for a tax increase of about 3.5 cents per $100 valuation. The possibility of such a tax increase was foretold in Spruill’s 2010-2011 budget recommendations and was reiterated by Spruill at Monday’s meeting.

“We predicted last year that this was going to be a difficult year, and it turned out that we were right,” Spruill said in an interview after the meeting.

After meeting with the BCCC board, the commissioners approved budget amendments to the county’s current budget that included a drop in sales-tax revenue for the year of about 4.8 percent, some 3.3 percent more than originally thought.

A total decrease in revenue of $203,669 for the year was offset by an equal decrease in spending, according to the budget amendment.