Edgecombe faces tough balancing act

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Edgecombe County commissioners are wrestling with a giant bear of a budget this year – no matter which way they turn, it seems, something’s going to get clawed.

County Manager Lorenzo Carmon presented a $57.85 million proposal that includes a 6-cent property tax increase. Commissioners wasted no time in directing Carmon to work on the proposal again – ideally with enough spending cuts to ward off the proposed tax increase.

The commissioners’ reluctance to pass along such a hike is understandable. At 86 cents per $100 valuation, Edgecombe County’s property tax rate already is one of the highest in the state. That kind of tax burden doesn’t help the county in its efforts to recruit new business and industries.

But Carmon has a tough assignment. Each penny of the property tax rate generates more than $285,000. As Telegram reporter Darla Slipke has reported, that means Carmon and his staff would have to cut about $1.7 million from the budget proposal in order to keep the property tax rate as is.

The typical knee-jerk reaction from outside critics often suggests that government employees are overpaid. But consider how well Edgecombe has managed staffing expenses. County employees haven’t had a pay raise in five years, and there’s no plan for an increase in the new budget either.

Edgecombe County eliminated 15 positions during fiscal 2013-14. Carmon assures commissioners that only critical positions will be filled as they become vacant during the next fiscal year.

Only one resident showed up last week at a public hearing in Tarboro to offer a response to Carmon’s budget proposal, yet the plan will affect everyone in Edgecombe County in a big way.

Commissioners and the county manager could no doubt use more help from the folks who will be directly affected. The county is trying to wrestle a pretty big bear.