Board approves budget

Published 1:43 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Charles M. Smith, a retired Methodist minister, speaks to the county commissioners during the public hearing Monday in the auditorium at Beaufort County Community College. Smith, who also is the president of the Turnage Theaters Foundation’s Board of Directors, was in support of funding for the Beaufort County Arts Council, which he explained would help with economic development. (WDN Photo/Sara Cowell)

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners early Tuesday morning approved a budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year that includes a property-tax rate of 53 cents per $100 valuation, a 3 cents per $100 valuation increase over the current fiscal year.

The board voted 5-2, with Commissioners Stan Deatherage and Hood Richardson casting dissenting votes, to approve a compromise plan that reduces County Manager Paul Spruill’s proposed $50,945,552 budget by $890,271 and increases projected revenue by $170,000.

Under the budget approved by the commissioners, county residents will have a chance to turn back 1.5 cents of the tax increase if they approve a sales-tax increase in a referendum to be scheduled for May 2012.

The new tax rate means the tax on a $100,000 house increases from $500 a year to $530 a year.

It takes effect July 1.

The commissioners approved the 2011-2012 budget after a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours and drew 29 speakers. Their comments were about evenly divided between those who urged the commissioners to restore or retain funding for various county agencies and those who urged the commissioners not to raise taxes.

While the public hearing drew a crowd of about 100 people to the campus of Beaufort County Community College, about a dozen people were still in the audience when the budget was approved.

At the start of Monday’s commissioners meeting board Chairman Jerry Langley told his fellow commissioners they were “not leaving” until a budget was approved.

Langley’s resolve began to flag about 11:30 p.m. after the panel had turned back five plans presented by individual commissioners.

“I don’t really feel like there will be a lot of compromise here tonight,” he said.

Spruill, who leaves his post Friday, urged the commissioners to reach a compromise.

“I implore you to keep working,” he said.

After nearly another hour of debate, the panel adopted a compromise plan about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, drawing suggestions from plans proffered by Langley and Commissioners Al Klemm and Jay McRoy.

Tempers flared after the vote after Richardson said the budget approved by the panel “successfully managed to pay off all of their buds” and admonished them for not taking tighter control of the public-school purse strings.

Following a heated discussion between Richardson and McRoy, Langley gaveled the debate to a close.

As expected, most of the cuts made by the commissioners during the meeting to Spruill’s recommended budget — some $786,000 — came at the expense of the county’s public schools.

The budget trims $325,000 from the Beaufort County Schools operating budget and $461,000 from the BCS construction budget.

The cuts reduce the school’s capital budget to $476,860 although the plan also calls for the county to appropriate any funds from the North Carolina Education Lottery — estimated to be about $500,000 — to the school system for construction projects.

It reduces the county’s contribution to the school system’s operating budget from $12,320,150 recommended by Spruill to about $11.9 million — a sum about equal to the system’s appropriation in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

It also calls for county departments to trim $70,000 in spending, and it includes $100,000 in increased revenue from improved tax collections and economic growth in the county.

The 2011-2012 budget restores most of the funding for Beaufort County nonprofit groups tentatively cut in a series of straw votes taken earlier this month.

It restores $2,500 in funding for Literacy Volunteers of Beaufort County, $1,000 in funding for the Food Bank of the Albemarle, $2,500 for Washington Community Care Coalition and $4,775 for Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library.

The budget also restores $10,000 in funding for the Beaufort County Arts Council, which had been slated for a $17,000 cut, which would have eliminated all county funding for the agency.

It retains $5,278 in cuts to county recreational programs, cuts appropriations for Washington recreation programs by $14,159, cuts funding for the Belhaven Memorial Museum by $1,000, cuts funds for Citizens on Southside Together by $1,000 and cuts funding for the Sidney Dive Team by $5,700.

The budget also cuts appropriations for a vehicle for Emergency Management that was purchased this year, and it cuts $26,000 from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for an evidence vehicle.

It also includes new spending not included in Spruill’s recommended budget, including $5,000 in funding for a new sign at the Veterans Memorial Park in Washington, a $5,000 increase in funding for the Highway 17 Association and $4,700 in new funds for the eastern North Carolina lobbying group NC20.

It also restores two furlough days for county employees at a cost of $90,000.

A plan presented by Richardson to cut more than $2.6 million from Spruill’s recommended budget would have kept the tax rate at the current 50 cents per $100 valuation and place restrictions on spending by the county schools was first rejected by a vote of 5-2, with Deatherage and Richardson supporting the plan.

A plan presented by Langley that would have raised the tax rate by 4 cents per $100 valuation and cut $759,887 from Spruill’s recommended budget was rejected 4-3, with Langley and Commissioners Ed Booth and Robert Cayton supporting the plan.

A plan presented by McRoy to raise taxes by 1.5 cents per $100 valuation and call for $500,000 in county-government cuts and spending from savings was rejected 5-2, with Klemm and McRoy supporting it.

A plan presented by Klemm to raise taxes by 2.5 cents and cut Spruill’s recommended budget by $1,333,767 was rejected 6-1, with Klemm casting the sole vote in its favor.

The commissioners also turned back by a 5-2 vote a plan presented by Deatherage to raise the tax rate by 2 cents per $100 valuation, with the provision that half of that increase be appropriated to savings and contingency. Commissioners Deatherage and Richardson supported that plan.

All commissioners attended the meeting.