County talks outside agency spending

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Funding senior services, recreation programs and any outside agency were a topic of discussion at last week’s annual Beaufort County Board of Commissioners retreat.

In advance of county staff putting together a 2016-17 fiscal year budget, commissioners gathered at the North Carolina Estuarium to hear reports from county department heads and discuss needs that might be addressed this budgeting season.

County Manager Brian Alligood initiated the discussion about what direction he should take in budgeting for outside agency funding requests. As Washington’s city manager, Alligood helped the city curtail spending on outside agencies as requested by the city council.

The county should do the same, according to Commissioner Hood Richardson.

“These are charitable expenses. There’s lots of money involved here,” Richardson said. “We really need to stop all these outside payments. … The public will donate money if it’s legitimate.”

Other commissioners disagreed: it was decided that outside agencies that received funding in the previous budget, and are requesting funding again, will be included at the same amount in the manager’s 2016-17 recommended budget. If the requested amount is increased, that entity will be asked to make the request in front of the board of commissioners.

“If it’s going up, they can come in and present (the request) to you,” Alligood told the board.

Of particular interest in the discussion was the county’s role in funding recreation programs, as well as senior services. Currently, the county contributes some money to city recreation departments and provides no funding for senior services.

“Typically, the county is not in the recreation programming business,” Alligood said.

However, many county residents use those services.

“Problem is 80 percent of the kids (who play in rec leagues) don’t live in the cities,” said Commissioner Ed Booth. “We’ve got kids coming to Washington from Belhaven, Acre Station.”

Richardson said funding for the recreational leagues was born from Nixon-era grants that dried up and that municipalities in Beaufort County have the ability to tax their residents in order to fund their own rec leagues.

“If it was up to me, I’d stop (the funding),” Richardson said.

“I’d rather have recreation and education than use the money to pay for jails later on,” Commissioner Ron Buzzeo responded.

While many county residents also use the Grace Martin Harwell Senior Center in Washington, which offers a wide variety of health and educational programming and activities, its budget is comprised of city, state and federal funding, along with donations and proceeds from fundraisers. The senior center did make a request for county funding last year, but was somehow left off the budget, according to Alligood.

Richardson said he does not believe the county should fund senior recreation. Rather, commissioners should be focusing on cutting outside agency funding and lowering taxes.