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Budget plan avoids tax hike

Beaufort County residents will not see an increase in the county’s property-tax rate if county leaders approve a budget recommended to them Monday night by County Manager Randell Woodruff.

In the first budget he has prepared for Beaufort County since he assumed the post of county manager in September 2011, Woodruff’s $51.8 million spending plan for fiscal year 2012-2013 includes a property-tax rate of 53 cents per $100, the current rate.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is expected to hold its first workshop on Woodruff’s recommendations Monday, and will likely spend the rest of the month debating the recommendations before adopting the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget by July 1.

Woodruff’s budget includes some increases in funds for operational needs for the county’s public schools and community college, an increase in the number of county employees in some departments and a cost-of-living increase for county employees.

It stops short of funding much of the public schools’ capital budget request as well as some other departments’ requests for expansion funds.

Woodruff, in an interview Monday, characterized his recommended spending plan as “a no-frills budget,” adding that while many of the requests that have gone unfunded in his plan are valid requests, “it’s not realistic to think we can do all of that at this time.”

“My hope is that as we move along, we will start to see some substantial improvement in the economy where we will be able to do some things and make some upgrades,” he said. “But right now we just can’t do it,”

Woodruff’s budget is an $870,394 decrease from the county’s $52.6 million budget for fiscal year 2011-2012.

Despite that, Woodruff recommended about $2,265,417 in increased spending, including $254,000 to pay for a 2-percent cost-of-living adjustment for county employees; a $223,301 increase in the current expense budget for Beaufort County Schools; $208,000 for the estimated debt payments for the new Allied Health Building at Beaufort County Community College; a $205,985 increase in BCCC’s operating budget to pay for the operating costs of that new building; $198,294 for principal in the debt service for the QuickStart II building at the Washington Industrial Park; $87,191 to pay for the increased cost of health insurance for county employees, and $44,000 to provide a 0.5-percent increase in contributions to county employee retirement plans.

Woodruff’s list of new county employees includes one maintenance employee, one animal-control officer and a part-time clerical position for the Beaufort County Health Department’s Division of Environmental Health.

Also included in Woodruff’s list of new spending are capital requests that include $187,740 for seven new vehicles for the sheriff’s office, $180,000 for technology upgrades at the Department of Social Services, about $112,362 for repairs and upgrades to county-owned buildings, $34,200 for the Board of Elections to expand early voting sites and to improve access to polling places, $30,018 for equipment for the county jail and the purchase of four new vehicles for other departments, among other projects.

This new spending in 2012-2013 would be offset by some $3.14 million in spending reductions under Woodruff’s plan and $725,382 in revenue increases.

Unlike the 2011-2012 fiscal-year budget, which predicted no growth in the county’s tax base, Woodruff predicts an increase of $265,427 in property-tax revenue for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. He also predicts an increase in the county’s share of state sales-tax revenue of $109,955.

He includes the possibility of appropriating $350,000 from county savings to help balance the budget, although he predicts these funds “will not be used based on efforts to decrease this amount through lapse salary and potential for other areas to cut costs.”

In addition to his spending plan, Woodruff’s budget also includes a request that county leaders begin work on a comprehensive plan for Beaufort County that would involve public meetings throughout the county to gauge public opinion about the county’s current and future needs, and he plans to conduct customer-service training for all county staff “to build on the strong foundation the staff already has in this area.”

And, in an effort to help the county manage its finances wisely, his budget message calls for the development of a capital-improvement program that “will highlight and annually update the facility improvement/maintenance, and capital needs of the county.”

Although some county commissioners in past discussions have opposed long-range planning, preferring an “ad-hoc approach,” Woodruff’s budget message encourages the commissioners “to support this effort which the Assistant Manager and I hope to present to the Board next calendar year.”