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County staff aim for same services, at same cost

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is heading into budget season, as county staff launches into compiling the county’s 2019-20 budget.

On Jan. 28, commissioners gathered for a strategic planning retreat, consulting with department heads and directors of county-funded agencies in the first phase of piecing together a budget for the next fiscal year. For the next month, county staff will be putting together that budget — a budget based on providing the same services this year as it supplied last year, according to county Manager Brian Alligood.

“The county departments are putting their budgets together and the county staff is just waiting for them to get those in, then we’ll sit down with each of the department heads and go through them and compile them all together,” Alligood said.

Two weeks ago, county finance staff and the Board of Commissioners met for a retreat and heard from each department head about needs for the coming fiscal year. One new expense is the county’s contribution to the North Carolina public employees retirement system which, historically, has not met its stated rate of return for the past 15 years, according to State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

“They’ve used projections over the years on about seven, seven and half percent, but they’ve never returned 7 percent,” Alligood said. “They are increasing (contributions) this year — there was already a plan a couple of years ago to increase employer contributions to the fund. Last year, they had a negative returns, and the actuaries said, ‘You gotta change it.’ It’s going up 1.2 percent, which is about $220,000 for us.”

During last week’s regular meeting of the Beaufort County commissioners, Commissioner Stan Deatherage suggested county finance office staff shave 5 percent off of last year’s budget, or $2.986 million, a position fellow commissioner Hood Richardson supported.

Alligood, however, said decreasing the budget across the board is a lot harder than one would think.

“It would be pretty difficult. That’s three million dollars. From my perspective, you look at three million dollars out of that budget, you have to look at programs you’ll have to take out,” Alligood said, explaining that departments with large budgets may be able to handle such a cut, but for other, smaller, departments, a decrease of 5 percent to an already tight budget could greatly affect departmental abilities. “It would not be an easy chore, especially without some direction on what kind of policy changes they want to look at.”

Commissioners then voted 2-5 against instructing staff to decrease each department’s budget by 5 percent.

On May 13, Alligood will present the 2019-20 budget overview to the Board of Commissioners. A few days later, commissioners will have the opportunity to put their own stamps on the budget through a series of budget workshops. Budget workshops will take place at 5 p.m. on the following days:

  • May 16 — Budget workshop, General Fund
  • May 20 — Budget workshop, General Fund and Enterprise Funds
  • May 21 — Budget workshop, Service Expansion (county and outside agencies)
  • May 23 — Budget workshop, finalize budget

On June 3, a 2019-20 budget public hearing will be held at the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting, followed by a special meeting June 10 in which commissioners will adopt the final budget.

All budget workshops/meetings are open to the public.