The matter of special allocations funding, which reared its head in the form of a $10,000 line item county commissioners could designate to a specific purpose, proved to be too much of a sticking point in a split vote Monday on the 2017-18 Sampson County budget.
The budget was adopted following a 3-2 vote during a brief session Monday night. Commissioners Harry Parker and Albert Kirby voted against the budget, while Commissioners Jerol Kivett, Sue Lee and chairman Clark Wooten voted for the plan.
While the board gave county staff a standing ovation last month, a $10,000 line item for special appropriations split the board, which voted 3-2 to remove the $10,000 allocation last week as well as 3-2 to direct staff to put together a budget ordinance to be considered Monday, which saw a third 3-2 vote.
After jokingly asking in previous sessions how anyone could possibly vote against decreasing taxes, Kirby said Monday he would indeed be voting against a budget that contained a half-cent tax decrease, but wanted people to have his reasons.
“This is why, in this budget, I cannot vote yes. I thought about the school situation. We really need to put more money toward the schools in this budget. There are areas where we can pull it from other places and give the schools. That’s one concern,” said Kirby. ” The other concern is discretionary spending. It’s not fair to have all the discretionary money from the budget go in one place. This is my humble, honest concern. It’s out of love I’m saying this tonight.”
“We have people we represent,” the commissioner continued. “Those are two reasons I cannot go along with this.”
Like Kirby, Parker lauded County manager Ed Causey and staff for compiling a budget with a tax cut, but echoed his fellow Democrat’s concerns.
“I am not going to vote for this because of those reasons Mr. Kirby expressed,” said Parker. “It is a choice of all of us to vote as we feel free to do so.”
The $10,000 line item, and special allocations as a whole, was deliberated at length last week.
“Given that we can’t contribute to every worthy organization in this county, I would suggest that we just remove this appropriation,” said Lee during that meeting. “It’s prohibitive that we do it for all the worthy organizations and I can’t see that $10,000 is going to cover a lot if we can’t help everybody.”
Kirby said the Sampson County History Museum, set to receive $50,000 for 2017-18, was really the only one that received such special appropriation funds. He noted the Coharie Tribal Council and Sampson High School Alumni Association regularly ask for funds to no avail. Parker mentioned his constituents at the Harrells Nutrition Site, a contingent that broached similar concerns this past weekend of being passed over by the county.
“They are just asking for a little help,” Parker noted. “I want to be fair and impartial about all of this. If we do for one, it’s only right we do for another. I’m not saying take it away from the museum. I’m not advocating that, but I’m saying let’s look at these other important ones.”
“Someone else is going to want that money tomorrow,” Lee noted at last week’s meeting. “I think we’re opening ourselves up.”
At Monday’s session, Wooten thanked board members for their consideration and comments.
“I respect every person on this board. I respect your reasons and I respect your comments,” the chairman said. “I hope that when you walk out of here today we can continue to respect each other and continue to go forward and do good things for this county. I thank each one of you.”
The 2017-18 budget raises local schools’ per pupil funding by 6 percent, factors in a cost of living adjustment and projects $1.5 million more in tax collections and sales tax revenue — all while cutting the property tax rate by half a cent, from 83 cents to 82.5 cents per $100 valuation. Causey cited a projected uptick of tax revenue and sales tax collections totaling $1.5 million that prompted the tax decrease.
The recommended 2017-18 budget has a General Fund totaling $59,347,634, up slightly from the amended 2016-17 budget of $59,162,146.
The budget includes an increase of $72 per student in per pupil funding, from $975 to $1,047, which totals $679,881 (6.1 percent hike) for Clinton City Schools and Sampson County Schools. The city school system are also subsidized through a city supplemental tax. Commissioners and county staff said long-term funding discussions involving all parties are vital going forward.
Among some of other highlights of the budget are:
• Allocations in capital outlay funding for city schools in the amount of $294,776 (request was $389,000) and $811,000 for the county schools. The county school system requested $809,976 for annual capital outlay, $592,000 for maintenance capital repairs and a total of $300,000 for two construction projects at Midway High School and Union High School.
• An increase in the operational funding of Sampson Community College by $10,831. A $250,000 allocation for capital outlay expenses, the second of a 10-year allocation, was reassigned to educational reserve, not specifically earmarked for SCC.
• Replacement of 18 sheriff’s vehicles, one ambulance and one quick response vehicle.
• An increase in the rescue budget by $279,907, of which $128,229 is salaries and $66,000 is for the purchase of a new rescue ambulance instead of a remount. The remainder constitutes supplies, insurance and miscellaneous costs.
• $173,585 to replace elections equipment.
The newly-adopted budget is available for review in the Office of the County Manager (406 County Complex Road, Clinton) weekdays between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is also available online http://tinyurl.com/yd4a7j82
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.