Commissioners add $100,000 to county’s proposed budget
By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners agreed Monday to add $100,000 to the proposed $130 million 2008-2009 budget.
That adjustment won’t change the tax rate, which will remain at 59.5 cents per $100 of property value.
And it won’t affect schools. After listening to speakers calling for more money for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, commissioners gave no indication they are willing to go beyond the proposed $1.9 million increase.
Overall, the Rowan-Salisbury Schools get $32.5 million for operations in the proposed budget.
Commissioners did appear willing to support a tax-rate increase for the Locke, Franklin and Bostian Heights fire departments. All three are seeking a rate increase of 1 cent per $100 of property value.
The majority of the board stood firm on giving county employees a 4.1 percent cost-of-living pay increase and continuing free health insurance at a total cost of $1.5 million.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he is aware that it may be political suicide to oppose the cost-of-living hike for employees. But Sides urged the board to reconsider and use much of the $1.2 million to give pay increases to employees clumped on the lower ranges of the county’s pay scale.
Sides also said he could support a half cent rate increase for the fire departments this year and the remaining half cent next year. He added that he plans to attend the public hearings at each of the fire departments next week to gauge public support.
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell commended the nearly 30 speakers at Monday’s hearing, but said he would like to have seen far more ó enough to cause several nights of hearings. “We must have an active citizenry,” he said.
Mitchell, a teacher and athletic director at East Rowan High School, made clear at the outset he would not push for or support money for teacher supplements. “I will not participate in the debate or vote,” Mitchell said. Doing so, he added, would not be appropriate.
Mitchell also praised the board for its diverse opinions, saying a difference of opinion is healthy.
Mitchell defended using $8 million of the county’s fund balance, or savings account, to make the budget work.
Finance Director Leslie Heidrick has said repeatedly the county typically spends about 94 percent of its budget, rolling the remainder back into savings. If the trend continues, the county won’t spend much of the $8 million, if any.
Commissioner Jon Barber made note of nearly $16 million in requests that haven’t been funded, including a proposed Farm Life Museum at Sloan Park, the Bullhole Park and a western Rowan EMS station.
He also called on the board to support the tax rates approved by the fire district commissioners who are appointed by the county commissioners. “Stop the circus,” Barber said.
Hall talked at length about the worsening economy, the layoff of 1,500 workers at Freightliner and the impact of rising fuel costs.
Hall urged school officials to use the money the county is giving them to hire technology facilitators. She said the school board asked for more money for technology last year and ended up using the extra dollars to hire more administrators.Chairman Arnold Chamberlain took several non-binding straw votes to make minor changes in the budget.
The changes include:
– Adding $75,000 in funding for the Rowan Rescue Squad, which was inadvertently omitted from the budget. Sides and Hall voted against the measure.
– Redirecting $35,000 in ABC funds from Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare to the alternative counseling program operated by the Criminal Justice Partnership. The vote was unanimous.
– Eliminating $75,000 in funding slated for the Rowan Jobs Initiative. Barber voted against the measure.
Commissioners are scheduled to take a final vote on the 2009 budget at the June 16 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Cohen Administration Building.