Budget review begins

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Beaufort County’s public-school leaders said Monday they will “look at other alternatives” to “putting anybody out on the street” in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

But faced with a budget that would fund about half of the requested increase for the Beaufort County Schools for the coming year, BCS Superintendent Don Phipps told county leaders that 2012-1013 will be “a tough road ahead.”

Phipps and other school leaders met with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners as county leaders began their review of County Manager Randell Woodruff’s recommended $51.8 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The commissioners discussed Woodruff’s budget proposals for the county’s public schools, Beaufort County Community College and new funding proposals for county departments during the first of three scheduled budget workshops.

Woodruff’s recommended budget includes an increase of $223,301 in funds for the schools’ operating budget — about half of the requested $500,000 increase. It also stops short of funding much of the schools’ capital budget request — recommending $962,060 for construction projects, also about half of the $1,674,637 requested by school leaders.

Some county leaders seemed prepared to support a proposal to hire a school-facilities manager who would oversee efforts to reduce energy costs at the county’s schools.

When told that a grant request for a facilities manager and related equipment purchases had been rejected, some county leaders said the savings from such a program would be worth the investment of county funds.

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

Despite that, Woodruff has recommended about $2,265,417 in increased spending, including $254,000 to pay for a 2-percent cost-of-living adjustment for county employees; $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, in part, 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 employees’ retirement plans.

The commissioners also reviewed Woodruff’s recommended $1,044,646 in expansion requests for county departments. Woodruff’s budget includes about half of the expansion items requested by county department heads, but it is an increase of about $616,358 over expansion spending recommended by then-County Manager Paul Spruill for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Included in Woodruff’s expansion budget is $187,740 for seven new vehicles for the Beaufort County 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 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.

Woodruff delays spending $126,300 for a new elevator at the county courthouse, $180,000 for parking-lot repairs at the former Tideland Mental Health building, $200,000 for demolition and removal of the old County Home building, $150,000 for additional overtime costs for the sheriff’s office and several requests for new employees.

The budget recommendation also funds only about half of a Department of Social Services request to expand a computerized system in place at the department.

During their review of the expansion budget, some commissioners questioned whether hiring an additional deputy for the sheriff’s office — at a cost of $31,686 plus benefits — would eliminate the need for additional overtime.

Others said funding additional overtime would give law-enforcement officers more time to work investigations and be a better investment than new equipment requested by Sheriff Alan Jordan.

“There are plenty of toys in here that we can cut out to get some money for overtime,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson.

The commissioners are scheduled to continue their review of Woodruff’s budget Thursday.

All commissioners attended Monday’s meeting.