Open and shut

By Chris Berendt

June 5, 2014

The first work session on the county’s proposed 2014-15 budget ended just minutes after it began Thursday, with commissioners unanimously agreeing to spend more time culling through the plan before convening again next week.

Once Board of Commissioners chairman Jefferson Strickland called the meeting to order, Commissioner Jarvis McLamb made a motion to recess to reconvene.

“Today’s meeting is for the sole purpose of looking at the budget that has been presented to us by the county manager,” Strickland remarked. “Today’s session is intended for looking for change or for cuts … that would make a difference in the budget, whether a plus or a minus. It has been brought to my attention by one commissioner that he has not had the proper time to study the proposed budget and would like more time to make considerations before making official recommendations to the budget.”

Upon McLamb’s motion, the board unanimously voted to reconvene Tuesday, June 10, at 1 p.m. in the County Administration Building.

The recommended 2014-15 budget, presented Monday by county manager Ed Causey, includes a 9 cent property tax increase, a necessary hike to pay for some $4.4 million in additional countywide expenditures. On Monday, the board set June 5 and June 10 as work sessions to further discuss the proposed budget leading up to the June 16 budget public hearing.

The board will go straight to the second date “for the same purpose at the same place,” Strickland noted.

“Remember as you make your deliberations, one cent on the tax rate equals approximately $400,000, so you need to keep that in mind,” Strickland remarked. “I thought you might want to know that.”

Using that formula, the $4.4 million in additional expenditures equates to 11 cents on the tax rate, however the $800,000 in lost lottery proceeds included in that, making up 2 cents, can be absorbed by the county.

Of the $4.4 million, some expenditures include $500,000 for implementation of an employee pay study, more than $670,000 in capital repairs for Sampson Community College and a student ADM (Average Daily Membership) hike to $900 per student for Clinton City Schools and Sampson County Schools, meaning $484,000 in extra county dollars.

“We recognize that this proposed budget will likely receive substantive and possibly intense discussion,” Causey said earlier this week. “The proposed tax increase … is more a result of circumstances than increased discretionary spending on the part of the county.”

The county manager pointed to federal spending reductions and unfunded state mandates, along with the county’s “inadequate cash reserves” to cover maintenance and repairs infrastructure needs of the county, as well as for the two school systems and the community college. A tax structure never put in place to cover all the county’s acquired debt — which spiked from $24 million in 1999 to $139 million by 2005 — has been a colossal budgetary obstacle and loomed larger with each budget-strapped year, he said.

“These issues have wreaked havoc on our budgets in the past years and left both our physical infrastructure and the human infrastructure in great need,” Causey asserted. “At the end of the day, we have two choices. We have to either increase our revenues or decrease our expenditures.”

Strickland implored commissioners to come back Tuesday ready to dive into the budget.

“I hope that when we come (Tuesday), you will have looked through your book and you will have your ideas written down as to what you will present to the board,” the chairman remarked.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.