During a public hearing for the proposed 2015-16 Sampson County budget, Commissioners chairman Billy Lockamy believed that a silent audience was a sign that everything was OK.
“We’ve looked at it and made some changes,” Lockamy said about the process running smoothly. “I’m proud of our staff for what they have put into it.”
Commissioners voted 4-1 to for Finance Officer David Clack to draft a budget ordinance and they set the next budget related meeting for 4 p.m. Thursday, June 25 at the County Auditorium, 435 Rowan Road, at which time the fiscal plan is expected to be approved. Commissioner Albert Kirby cast the dissenting vote.
Although residents can look forward to not having a tax increase, some of the commissioners were concerned about how the 2015-16 budget funds will be divided among a few nonprofits in the county.
Kirby voted against the motion to set the tax rate at 83 cents and to direct staff to prepare a budget ordinance. “I’m not satisfied with the way the budget is laid out now,” Kirby said. “I’m for the zero tax increase and the 83 cents the way it is now.” But he took issue with other areas of the budget.
During the meeting, Kirby and Commissioner Harry Parker discussed their concerns about nonprofits and services for senior citizens being neglected. Kirby indicated that the Sampson County History Museum was receiving too much money. According to the budget’s special appropriations, the museum is set to receive more than $56,000.
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m against the History Museum because I’m not,” Kirby stressed. “But it’s unfair to say I’m going to give nearly $60,000 (to the History Museum) but I’m not going to give one penny to the folks down in Harrells (at the Community Center ), the Sampson High School Alumni Association and not one penny to the Coharie Tribe.”
Kirby said he believed it was unfair to the organizations and to other departments in the county.
“More money should be given to education,” he noted while addressing county officials. “I think the school systems should get more than $930 per kid.”
Parker mentioned how there’s an order for everything and the principle of giving and getting in return would be more residents active in county government.
“That’s what we’re all here for, to help out people” Parker attested. “That’s my concern with this whole matter … not that’s going to be an ongoing thing, but if something is started, I believe it should be finished …”
As a response, County manager Ed Causey said it could set a precedent where the county is bombarded by nonprofits wanting to receive additional funding. Several years ago, Causey said there was a lot of interest in the History Museum organization. Kirby later asked what’s the difference between the History Museum and the Coharie Tribe.
“They’re all taxpayers and it’s all tax money,” Kirby said. “What’s the difference between the History Museum and the Sampson County Alumni Association? It was a school here way back when and it’s a school that touches every fabric of this county.”
During the conversation, Causey recognized the work of churches and nonprofits in the county, but reiterated the precedent issue and other filtering processes. He also indicated that staff is open to taken suggestions to the board.
“We’re certainly receptive to carrying out whatever the board’s desires are,” Causey said.
Currently, the budget includes a proposed tax of 83 cents per $100 valuation, the current rate. County officials previously noted it was a positive result of new industry, property tax revenues and sales taxes. The county’s fiscal standing and savings through a recent bond refinancing was stated as another reason.