TARBORO – To avoid raising taxes next fiscal year, Edgecombe County commissioners have decided to move forward with a new budget proposal that cuts funding for public schools, Edgecombe Community College and the Department of Social Services and includes a reduction in force that will affect 34 county employees.
County commissioners have not adopted a final budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. They plan to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. June 30 to allow people to discuss the new budget proposal. Afterward, the board will vote to adopt a budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Last month, County Manager Lorenzo Carmon presented the board with a budget proposal for next fiscal year that included a six-cent property tax rate increase. A majority of the board members said they would not support a tax increase, and the board directed Carmon to bring back a new budget proposal that would not raise taxes.
County staff were tasked with finding ways to cut approximately $1.7 million from the original budget recommendation in order to keep the property tax rate unchanged.
During a budget work session Tuesday afternoon in Tarboro, Carmon presented the board with a revised budget that would not raise property taxes. The new proposal includes a 5 percent – or $750,000 – reduction in the Department of Social Services’ budget request, a 3 percent, – or $260,000 – reduction in Edgecombe County Public Schools’ budget request and a 3 percent, or $41,580 – reduction in Edgecombe Community College’s budget request. It also would eliminate 34 county positions.
Carmon said the county could avoid the reduction in force by implementing the other proposed cuts along with a 3.5 percent property tax increase.
County officials have not yet identified the positions that would be affected by the reduction in force, Carmon said.
After some discussion, the board voted 4-3 in favor of adopting the proposed changes, including the reduction in force, in order to move forward with a budget proposal that would keep the property tax rate at the current 86 cents per $100 valuation.
Board Vice Chairman Jonathan Felton and commissioners Billy Wooten, Donald Boswell and Wayne Hines voted in favor of the motion. Board Chairman Leonard Wiggins and commissioners Viola Harris and Evelyn Powell voted against the motion.
County commissioners said they would like Carmon to have discretion with how he handles the reduction in force. They discussed the possibility of the county offering early retirement incentives and the possibility of trying to handle some of the reduction in force through attrition.
Carmon said the proposed reduction in force likely will be achieved through a combination of people leaving, people retiring and people being laid off. County officials expect to save about $1 million by eliminating 34 positions. They must give employees who are laid off at least two weeks’ notice.
The county typically has a turnover rate of approximately 10 percent, which amounts to about 50 people during the course of a year, Carmon said. Sometimes the county is able to consolidate or eliminate some of those positions as they become vacant. During the current fiscal year, the county eliminated 15 positions.
The county has a good group of employees, Carmon said. He said he hates to see any of them lose their jobs.
In addition to the reduction in force, the county likely will have to cut other positions from the Department of Social Services because of the proposed 5 percent reduction in the department’s budget request, county officials said.
During their budget discussion, county commissioners discussed concerns about the county dipping into fund balance during recent years.
The budget proposal for next fiscal year will appropriate the county’s available fund balance down to approximately 6 percent, although county officials do not expect to use all of the fund balance that is appropriated.
Boswell said the county’s reserves are slowly but surely declining.
“We’re at a point where I don’t think we can just put it off for one more year,” he said before the board voted Tuesday. “We may have to make the hard choices.”
Wooten expressed concerns that the county’s next revaluation will show a drop in values.
“We need to think not only of today and of the coming fiscal year, but we need to think of what we’re going to face two to three years from now,” he said.