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Public hearing on county budget is Monday

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year during its regular meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The meeting will be held in the boardroom at 136 W. Second St. in Washington.

Last Tuesday the commissioners finalized details of the budget, including expansion items, during their final budget workshop meeting.

The commissioners approved many items to be added to the expansion budget, which consists of new funding requested by agencies within or outside of the county government.

One of those approved additions to the budget is the allocation of the five deputy positions that were left out of the Sheriff’s Office budget for the current fiscal year in order to keep the budget flat.

Commissioner Jerry Langley introduced that expansion item.

“The need is there for those five officers,” Langley said. “… I’m just going with the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s department.

“And I will say this — and everybody knows this — I spent 14 years at that sheriff’s department; it will always be dear to my heart. I’ll always try to do all I can to make sure that they can continue to do the best job that they can possibly do. Whether I think the world of the administration or not, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m just interested in doing what’s right for the citizens of Beaufort County.”

During the budget process for the fiscal year 2020-21, the Sheriff’s Office was allocated 102 positions — five less than the year prior. A year earlier, the Sheriff’s office adjusted its budget to raise some salaries, and the agency made a commitment around that time to bring back a flat budget for 2020-21. In order to stay true to that commitment, the Sheriff’s Office had to leave five positions unfilled.

Those five vacant positions have been a source of tension over the past year. Sheriff Ernie Coleman has accused the commissioners several times of “defunding” those positions.

“Let’s see if I got this right — the sheriff is willing to give the county less service for a year so that he can give a huge pay increase to some of his favorite employees, 10 or 15 of them,” Commissioner Hood Richardson said Tuesday. “That’s going to happen every year after year after year. And we’re supposed to go along with only doing this one year and putting money back in the budget for the future.

“A little bit of common sense tells me that he knew he could run the sheriff’s department without those five employees, or he wouldn’t have agreed to not have them. So I don’t understand why the public should be abused by this process.  This is not a business process — it doesn’t make one lick of sense. It is a game that people play.”

The commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of adding the five positions to the expansion budget. Langley, Fankie Waters, Ed Booth and John Rebholz voted for the motion. Richardson, Stan Deatherage and Randy Walker voted against it.

The Sheriff’s Office is already set to lose 13 positions for the upcoming fiscal year. Deputies who primarily serve as school resource officers for Beaufort County Schools and help with other law enforcement tasks outside of school hours currently fill those positions. Coleman terminated the memorandum of understanding through which those SRO services are provided, and the school system will use a private contractor for SRO services when the new fiscal year begins, so the Sheriff’s Office no longer will have funding for those 13 positions.

The complete proposed budget document can be viewed here.

Other items on the agenda for Monday’s meeting include:

—   A presentation by North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Project Development Engineer Jeff Cabaniss on a proposed safety project on U.S. Highway 264.

—   An update from Beaufort County Health Director Jim Madson on efforts to curb the COVID-119 pandemic.

—   An informational discussion with Mark Boxer regarding broadband internet. Boxer is an engineer who has spent his entire career working with fiber/cable manufacturers. He is currently technical manager at OFS Optics.

—   A recommendation from the Beaufort County Board of Elections to approve the purchase of a new voting equipment system manufactured by Elections Systems and Software.

—   A compensation adjustment request from the Beaufort County Schools Board of Education.