County residents invited to weight in on 2016-17 budget

Published 12:27 am Monday, June 6, 2016

Residents of Beaufort County are invited to share their opinions about the county’s 2016-17 budget during a public hearing Monday night.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet at its regular time of 5:30 p.m.; the public hearing is set to begin at 5:40 p.m. To accommodate an expected increase of people attending, the meeting will be held in the Superior Courtroom, on the second floor of the Beaufort County Courthouse.

The 2016-17 county budget stands at $56.3 million, though that number is not finalized until commissioners vote to pass the budget. Notable items include allocation of funds for five Emergency Medical Dispatch personnel to complete implementation of the triage-based program in the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office E-911 Center, as well as for expansion of Beaufort County EMS, created to fill gaps in paramedic-level service across the county.

The budget calls for a 2-cent increase in property tax, from 53 cents per $100 valuation to 55 cents, and raises EMS taxes in two areas: Bath/Pamlico Beach and Cherry Run/Old Ford.

After receiving county Manager Brian Alligood’s recommended budget, commissioners met for a series of workshops — approving requested service expansion deemed necessary by county departments, while finding cuts elsewhere to offset additional funding.

Unlike previous years, only six commissioners took part in this year’s budget negotiations. Commissioner Hood Richardson asked to be excused from the process during the first meeting, after commissioners declined to commit to shaving $1.5 million off the budget in order to do away with the proposed property tax increase. Richardson said he would not vote for any budget that included a tax increase and asked to be excused. Commissioners voted 6-0 to excuse Richardson, who sat in the front row for the workshops, but generally did not participate unless a commissioner asked a question referring to past budget issues.

Commissioner Ron Buzzeo said the process was a smooth one, but the remaining commissioners had to make some tough choices.

“I’m not totally happy that we did not have enough funds to do what we really want to do,” Buzzeo said. “It’s a tight budget.”

Buzzeo said he was pleased with several of the decisions made, including safety and security expansion at Beaufort County Schools, at a cost of $466,920 from the BCS total capital outlay of $990,639; funding a study on the state of county buildings repair and maintenance needed; an additional employee for the Beaufort County Health Department to work specifically on education and outreach; and fleshing out the EMD program.

Buzzeo pointed out there were plenty of issues that had been ignored for too long.

“For too long we were kicking the can down the road with maintenance issues,” Buzzeo said, referring specifically to the decayed state of the Beaufort County Courthouse. “This is what we’re trying to address with this budget.”

Commissioner Ed Booth believes more should be done to address courthouse maintenance, sooner rather than later. As the budget stands, $107,000 will be allocated to courthouse maintenance in 2016-17, for part one of a three-phase project addressing such needs as a new roof.

“I’m not pleased with the courthouse,” Booth said. “The courthouse is in bad shape — $100,000 is just a drop in the bucket.”

Booth also said while he was pleased with where the Beaufort County Schools budget landed, he was a little disappointed that commissioners approved a $500,000 cut to Beaufort County Community College capital outlay. Commissioners thought the cut justified considering the college is slated to receive $6.5 million from the Connect NC bond, a referendum approved by voters in the March 15 primary. Booth said the college will not be getting that money in a lump sum, which could impede projects at the school.

“From my understanding, they’re not going to get the whole $6.5 million,” Booth said. “They’re going to get it in increments.”

Both Booth and Buzzeo said they looked forward to hearing residents’ views on the budget at the public hearing.

“I think every resident should come. It’s time for them to raise issues with the county commissioners. I want to hear from them — to hear their concerns, their needs,” Buzzeo said. “I welcome their attendance and presentations. I really do.”

“They need to let us know how they feel about how their money is being spent,” Booth said.