KENANSVILLE — With Duplin County entering the 2009-10 budget season, county manager Mike Aldridge looked to commissioners for guidance earlier this week, asking the board what items it wants to “preserve.” Aldridge did not get the information he was hoping for, only a single commissioner gave him feedback.
After spending days crunching numbers with his staff, Aldridge presented an trend of the county’s fund balance, property valuation, ad valorem tax revenue, total expenditures tax rate and total levy collections.
“This is focus session,” said the manager while showing the presentation. “I want to get some direction from the board, I want to take you through a broad overview.”
Aldridge asked commissioners to funnel down the county’s priorities for the next budget year.
“I want some big picture thinking,” he said. “What do you want preserved?”
After going through the presentation, commissioner David Fussell told the board and the manager that he wanted to stay “revenue” neutral. “In a recession you do not raise taxes,” he said.
Aldridge received no other feedback.
“Well good luck cause I don’t think you can wage a war on gangs and ignorance without it (raising the taxes),” he said.
Commissioner Reginald Wells inquired about the scheduling of the budget process, and commissioner Frances Parks asked about a list of possible areas to cut.
Aldridge responded that the board had already turned down the remaining items on his list. “I went through that list and I gave it to commissioners and I didn’t want to beat a dead horse,” said the manager. “The past two or three times the board did nothing with it.”
“Well, hearing no direction,” continued Aldridge, “We will proceed and bring you a budget ... Last year, I got beat up by Mr. Fussell and the press for bringing an unbalanced budget.”
After the meeting commissioners were sought for comment as to their lack of guidance for the manager.
Commissioner Parks replied, “This is my first year of really dealing with the budget and it is going to be a learning year for me.”
Board member Harold Raynor said he was afraid of being called a “micro” manager. “I think we need to give him (Aldridge) the opportunity to come up with a budget and if his budget comes out anywhere near acceptable, we (commissioners) will agree on it.”
Fussell who suggested the county stay revenue neutral acknowledged the desire for help. “He was begging for it, and the commissioners wouldn’t give it,” he said. “The cost of living, he said increased 24.3 percent from 2001-2008. Yet, we are taxing our people and spending more than double, 56 percent, more than we did last year. Our rate of spending is double the rate of inflation. We spent $15.9 million more in 2008-09 than we did in 2001.”
The vice chairman of the board, Reginald Wells, was not able to be reached for comment.
“Me?,” said chairman Cary Turner, “I support David Fussell with being revenue neutral ... There are cuts going on all around us and why would Duplin County be any different. I think Mike (Aldridge) has already made a list and we (commissioners) just need to look at it. I just think that the commissioners just didn’t want to jump in it because of the all the other things going on.”
Michael Connolly can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 120 or can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org