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Leaders peek at budget

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday finished a first look at County Manager Randell Woodruff’s recommended $51.8 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year without making any changes to the plan.

But one board member said he plans to come to the commissioners’ next budget workshop with a recommendation to cut some $2 million from the budget including a two percent cost of living adjustment for county employees recommended by Woodruff.

“This budget has got a lot of fat in it that can easily be cut out,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson at the end of Monday night’s review of Woodruff’s 150-page budget.

Richardson said that while he has a lot of respect for county employees, he has heard a lot of comments from county taxpayers opposing a provision in the proposed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget to spend $254,000 for the cost of living adjustment.

“There are a lot of people in society who are hurting in a lot of different ways,” he said. “We should hold the line on this.”

The commissioners will hold their next budget workshop on Woodruff’s recommendations beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 29. A public hearing on the spending plan is expected to be held on Monday, June 4, with the board required to adopt the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget by July 1.

Woodruff’s spending plan for 2012-2013 includes a property tax rate of 53 cents per $100, the same as the previous year and is an $870,394 decrease from the county’s $52.6 million budget for fiscal year 2011-2012.

But his plan also includes almost $2.3 million in increased spending. In addition to the cost of living adjustment for county employees, some of those increases include $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 one-half percent increase in contributions to county employee retirement plans.

Woodruff also recommends about $1 million in expansion requests for county departments.

But his plan delays spending $126,300 for an elevator at the county courthouse, $180,000 for parking lot repairs at the old Tideland Mental Health Building, $200,000 for demolition and removal of the old County Home building, $150,000 for additional overtime costs for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and several requests for new employees.

While the commissioners on Monday did not vote on the issue, most board members appeared ready to hire an additional deputy for the Sheriff’s Office — at a cost of $31,686 plus benefits — after receiving a report on overtime expenses at the office.

According to information presented to the commissioners, most of the overtime — about 176 hours per pay period — is used by the patrol division for activities such as inmate transports, serious criminal incidents, mental health commitments and covering shifts during manpower shortages.

The overtime clocked by the patrol division is roughly equal to the hours that would be worked during a pay period by an additional deputy, the commissioners were told.

“I think another deputy is justified,” Richardson said.

Some commissioners, however, continued to question whether a request from the Sheriff’s Office for a new system controlling access to the office building was justified.

In other discussions, two separate votes failed to increase inspections fees as requested by the county’s health department and failed to support maintaining the existing fees.

The net result of the votes will be no increase in fees, the commissioners were told.

All commissioners attended the meeting.