By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Edgecombe County is facing a budget shortfall and county management is looking at ways to cut expenses while raising revenues.
County Manager Lorenzo Carmon presented a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year to county commissioners in a Wednesday meeting at the Edgecombe County Administrative Building.
The overall budget is $58,032,913, which is a .8 percent decrease from last year’s operating budget. The county is operating at a 5-cent tax equivalent above revenues, bringing the fund balance below 15 percent, which is the average for counties comparable to Edgecombe.
The board faces a $1.4 million budget shortfall, accounting for 2 percent of its budget stream, as Commissioner William “Billy” Wooten pointed out.
“If we could generate 2 percent more revenue, we could close the gap…and I think it needs to be a balanced approach,” said Wooten
Commissioner Donald Boswell voiced his approval of the proposed budget, but said that next year the county needs to consider raising taxes in an effort to balance the budget.
“We have dug a hole. We can’t get out of it,” Boswell said
The budget does not call for an increase in the tax rate but does call for a 5 percent increase in the water and sewer rate. The average bill for customers using 4,000 gallons of water per month will increase from $45 to $46 and the average sewer bill for the same will remain at $45. The county has 4,200 water customers and 46 sewer customers. The proposed budget also includes an increase in the tipping fee for solid waste of $1 per ton.
While proposing methods of raising revenue in the budget, Carmon recommended several ways of cutting costs, among them eliminating and consolidated positions, when possible.
“There are some positions that are absolutely critical and there are some that we are going to have to learn to live without,” said the county manager. He said the county is also going to look reevaluate the programs it offers to citizens, particularly in health and human services, and see where cuts can be made. Cuts in positions are not part of the budget proposal for the upcoming year, but the budget does include several other funding cuts, including $500,000 to the public schools, $54,000 in operating funds to Edgecombe Community College and the college’s capital outlay appropriation of $100,000 and a summer recreation program totaling $28,000. The only increased appropriation in the budget is $136,000 to the Edgecombe County Rescue. The South Edgecombe Fire Department also requested a two-cent tax increase rate, which would make the tax rate $0.05 for the upcoming year.
County employees’ jobs are not on the line this budget year, but they won’t receive a salary increase, either. Employees have not received an increase in pay since January 2009, while the overall cost of employee health insurance has increased by about 5 percent.
Like salaries, growth in Edgecombe County has stagnated, and according to Carmon, that’s one of the reasons for the budget shortfall.
“Our tax base is not growing,” Carmon said. “When was the last time you saw a new house being built in Tarboro? When was the last time you saw a new house being built in Pinetops?”
Commissioner Wayne Hines addressed the need for ways to attract people to the county in order to grow the tax base.
“We’ve got to invite industry and citizens into the county for tax purposes,” he said. Assistant County Manager Eric Evans noted that the county is working with the Town of Tarboro on a tourism initiative to funnel a fresh revenue stream to the county.
Commissioner Evelyn Powell said she approves of the proposed budget but voiced her concern that cutting programs and offerings might detract prospective citizens from moving to the area.
“We want to make sure the quality of our county remains,” she said.
One program that commissioners asked the county manager to retain during Wednesday’s meeting is the summer recreation program, one of the proposed budget cuts
“As a county, I think we should have some recreational outlets for our citizens,” said Commissioner Viola Harris. “We owe it to our citizens”
Board Vice-Chair Jonathan “Jon” Felton said he “wholeheartedly” endorses the proposed budget with the exception of cutting the recreation program. Wooten disagreed, stating that his position is for cutting costs. Boswell also disagreed with keeping the program, saying the county is “not in the business of recreation.” Boswell additionally called for a moratorium on increasing the funding already allotted in the budget to county agencies/ organizations, in an effort to avoid dipping into the fund balance.
“The board is sending a message that there needs to be tremendous oversight for this budget for the upcoming year,” Board Chairman Leonard Wiggins told Carmon before the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting.
The board approved a time and date for a public hearing on the budget, set for at 7 p.m. on June 3 in the commissioners’ room on the second floor of the Edgecombe County Administrative Building.