Saturday, July 01, 2006

Columbus County Budget Woes

The News Reporter

This time, the million-dollar question is worth a little more.

The county is reaching into an unknown fund balance hoping to pull $2.9 million out of it to balance the fiscal 2006-2007 budget and hold the tax rate steady at 73 cents per $100 value.

But with a fiscal 2005-2006 budget that has not been reconciled since Sept. 2005, Interim County Manager Jim Varner is not certain the money is there.

The budget deadline is Saturday, and despite much discussion at a special called meeting on Monday night that was recessed and continued on Wednesday night, commissioners have not approved the budget or set the tax rate.

They were not won over with the suggestion they do away with solid waste fees to customers and increase the tax rate by 10 cent per $100 value either.

Solid waste fee increases to cover fuel surcharges were needed, Varner said. County resident fees would increase from $177 to $193 a year. Municipality resident fees would increase from $90.48 to $106 a year.

Varner compared current tax rates with the solid waste fees at the increased rate and the suggested 83 cent tax rate without the solid waste fee to customers.

Figures showed that residents with property values under $200,000 paying an 83 cent tax and fire tax of 10 cents would save money by not having to pay the solid waste fee.

A county taxpayer with a property value of $100,000 with the $193 solid waste fee would pay $1,023 at the current tax rate. Under the 83-cent tax rate and no solid waste fee, that same taxpayer would pay $930.

While the proposal would benefit taxpayers in the brackets under $200,000, many commissioners questioned the burden it would place on those above the bracket and especially farmers with large tracts of land.

“In municipalities, people are paying for disposal, not collection,” Memory said, insisting it was not fair to residents in the city of Whiteville, Town of Lake Waccamaw, Fair Bluff and other municipalities either.

“I see where it would save people money—but when you put in the paper we are going to raise taxes 10 cent they [taxpayers] are going to go ballistic,” James Prevatte said.

Hopes that state legislators will pass some form of Medicaid relief and free up some of the county budget still linger. A cap alone would save the county about $1.5 million next year, Varner said. But for most commissioners the reality is they cannot wait for Medicaid relief.

“I just don’t think we can count on Raleigh for anything,” Memory said.

“We don’t have enough ingredients to pass the budget,” commissioner Amon McKenzie insisted on Monday. He didn’t get the ingredients he was looking for at the Wednesday meeting either. McKenzie is one of many commissioners who suggested the county look into passing some kind of interim budget to determine fund balances and see if Medicaid relief is passed.

“Why couldn’t we pass an interim budget until we see what Raleigh is going to do?” commissioner David Dutton asked.

Chairman Kipling Godwin said even with $1.2 million in the house budget for Medicaid relief the county budget would still be more than $1 million short.

“It’s an accounting nightmare when you do an interim budget,” Varner cautioned.

“We are already in an accounting nightmare,” Godwin responded.

The next budget meeting is planned for 8:30 a.m. on Friday in the commission chambers.

posted by David at 1:08 AM :: Permalink ::

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