The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

March 28, 2013

County commissioners retreat to Bricks

Board discusses budget, economic development, water and sewer projects

By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER

WHITAKERS — WHITAKERS – The Edgecombe County board of commissioners made one thing perfectly clear Tuesday during its retreat at the Franklinton Center at Bricks — property taxes will not be raised as part of the 2013-2014 budget.

"It's going to be our decision and our decision is that there is not going to be a tax increase," said commissioner Wayne Hines.

Hines' comment came on the heels of a hypothetical discussion concerning a property tax increase. None of the commissioners nor the county manager, Lorenzo Carmon, indicated that property taxes would be increased in the 2013-1014 budget.

During the discussion, chairman Leonard Wiggins said it is Carmon's responsibility to present the commissioners with a budget he believes will benefit the county.

"He probably will bring us back more than we want," Wiggins said. "That's normal. If he bring us a tax increase, it is our role to send him back and to get what we want."

Hines added, "The bottom line on this case is, don't even bring us a tax increase."

Carmon is in the process of preparing the budget. One of his mandates will be to ask each department to cut its budget by at least 5 percent. Carmon said in previous years, departments have made cuts by terminating positions. In 2006, the Edgecombe County had 501 employees. In 2012, the county has 471. He said employee payroll and health insurance makes up the lion's share of the budget.

Carmon said the 5 percent cut could be a difficult request to meet. Hines, however, said there is a need and he is expecting to see it in the proposal.

"The bottom line is that there is a need for a 5 percent decrease and it is expected," Hines said. "We're going to be looking for that decrease so that the budget can be balanced. The department heads need to understand that is our objectives."

The commissioners are hoping to have a better budget year in 2013-2014 than the present one. Revenues for that budget was $58.5 million and that included dipping $5.7 million out of reserves, which leaves the county fund balance at $10 million. The county also dipped into its fund balance for $1.3 for the 2011-2012 budget. County officials are estimating that they could use $1 million from the reserves for the 2013-2014 budget.

"The trend is not good cutting into the fund balance," Carmon said. "Ultimately, what you really like to do is to build up your fund balance and not cut into it. There is some reason why. One of them was had to do with land we bought in Kingsboro."

Reserve funds were also used to purchase sheriff's cars and pay for an increase in  health insurance.

The North Carolina Local Government Commission target range of the General Fund unreserved fund balance to General Fund expenditures is 12 percent to 14 percent. Edgecombe's fund balance for the 2012-2013 budget is 6.5 percent.

We have "big concern about drawing down the fund balance. We need to let the agencies and partners know we are in the same shape that the federal government and the state government (are in)," said vice chairman Jonathan Felton. "The things they are doing are the things we are going to have to do."

Carmon said outside agencies make up about $200,000 of the county's budget and the board did not say whether or not they are anticipating cutting those funds.

Other items on the retreat agenda was an economic development review by John Gessaman and Oppie Jordan of the Carolina Gateway Partnership, an update from Emergency Service Director Butch Beach and a report from the Wooten Company and  Edgecombe County Utility Director Mike Matthews concerning the county's water and sewer systems.