The Sampson County Board of Commissioners will meet in a three-day planning session in February, an annual designation on the county calendar utilized to discuss anticipated budget issues, big line items and future projects — as well as accompanying expenses and anticipated revenues — leading up to another budget season.
In recent years, the board has held the planning session to set goals and objectives for the upcoming budget deliberations, and the subsequent approval of the budget. Last year, the board set aside three full days, Tuesday through Thursday, starting at 8 a.m. each day. Those sessions were held during the third full week in February.
This year, it is slated to be held just a week earlier, starting on Monday, Feb. 11, and extending through Wednesday, Feb. 13. The first session will start at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 11, to be recessed before reconvening the next day.
While three days in length, the session will include two days of a full agenda of topics, with the third day anticipated to be a spill-over, half-day session to finish any discussion on topics or cover any other subject the commissioners still wish to address, county manager Ed Causey said.
“This is something that tradition has (the Board of Commissioners) doing every year,” said Causey. “It is something that staff values in giving insight for budget preparations.”
The session, which is open to the public but has regularly been attended mainly by county department heads and employees, will be held in the conference room of the County Administration Building.
County managerial staff is still working to formalize the agenda, although the tax rate, a constant focus, is expected to be discussed, as is employee pay and overall county operations broken down by department.
Past agendas have included reports from finance officer David Clack, as well as a continual discussion of “budget drivers,” future capital projects and other line items that have a significant impact on the fiscal plan. Department heads and other county officials, as they have in previous years, are expected to give presentations on the state of their departments, as well as share concerns and requests for the upcoming budget.
The planning session is often a good indicator of what issues will be affecting the county over the following months, and years, as the majority of the topics receiving attention during the February session in the last couple years have ultimately been at the heart of budget deliberations in May and June. That was particularly the case for the current budget, which reflects a lot of what was initially talked about last February.
The current budget includes, among other items, the establishment of capital reserve facility maintenance accounts and raises for employees along a tenure scale, a pay bump that was approved in July (following an interim budget adoption and subsequent final budget approval) and implemented this month. The tax rate is currently 78.5 cents per $100 valuation of taxable property.
A reduction in Sampson County Sheriff’s Office replacement cars from 12 to 10, and the hiring of an administrative staff position, at a salary of $26,000, effective this month, were also approved in the current budget.
Each one of the topics, from the capital reserve accounts to the tax rate, vehicles to personnel, were discussed during last February’s planning session. And some are expected to see continued discussion.
Additional personnel has often been a point of planning session talk.
In addition to the hiring of an administrative staff position, the county approved funding six additional rescue personnel for Sampson County EMS last April, an answer to a declining number of volunteers to respond to medical needs that local emergency officials said were not slowing down. That approval came after the dire need was addressed, and the request made, by EMS director Ronald Bass at the February planning session.
An additional three positions — Bass initially requested the nine total — were OK’d as part of the final budget approval in July.
One particular item that is expected to be addressed during this year’s planning session will be the salary hike, which just took effect. Its continued inclusion would have to be approved by commissioners.
The raise gave employees a 1 percent hike for those with less than five years experience; 1.5 percent to those with less than 10; 2 percent to those with less than 15 years; and 2.5 percent to those with more than 15 years of service. Implementing the bump effective this month meant the proposed expense was cut in half to $121,610 for the current budget.
That full amount, $243,220, would have to be approved to keep the same raises in effect for the next fiscal year.
Debt service also looms over the next budget year, which along with the tax rate, was a point of contention that split the board into a 2-2 deadlock and led to an interim budget adoption last June before former commissioner John Blanton broke the tie the following month. At that time, commissioner Albert Kirby, who voted against the 2012-13 budget along with commissioner Jarvis McLamb (they also dissented over the 2011-12 plan) alluded to some of the issues the commissioners would be facing in the 2013-14 budget.
“Spending in this (2012-13) budget is such that it is going to cause a tax increase next year,” Kirby said then. “Next year, if you vote for this budget, we’re going to be sitting here having to raise taxes because Roseboro (Elementary debt) is coming online with $700,000 you have to make up. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.