Vance County board split on budget process

May. 30, 2014 @ 06:42 PM

The Vance County Board of Commissioners will entertain a public hearing on the budget Monday night and enter a fourth work session on it Tuesday.

One commissioner likely won’t be there Tuesday.

During the third budget work session Thursday, Commissioner Tommy Hester left the meeting 20 minutes in, saying the budget wasn’t ready and that he was unhappy with the process commissioners are using to consider adjustments.

He said he will not return until it’s time to vote.

“I am not going to anymore,” Hester said Friday. “Those are not voting meetings; all it is is talk about the budget and to look at it line by line. They are just gathering thoughts of the budget. I have said what I thought was correct and have nothing else to talk about. When it comes to voting, I will most certainly be there.”

Vice chairman Archie Taylor made similar statements to open the meeting. Both Hester and Taylor met with the county manager, Jerry Ayscue, and the finance director, David Beck, after the board received the budget May 5.

Taylor said the board should not continue “cherry picking” the budget line by line but return it to the county manager for revising.

“I have concerns that this is our third work session, we are only one-third through the budget, and no cuts have been made,” Taylor said during the meeting. “If the county manager goes back and submits a new budget, it would speed up this process.”

A year ago, commissioners received the budget and 56 days later gave approval having made a net of about $40,000 in changes. They eliminated the county manager’s original 2-cent property tax increase but borrowed significantly from reserves.

Hester said this year’s budget should be decreased 3.3 percent, have no increases in taxes and have no money taken from the fund balance. He’s in favor of a graduated scale of raises for county employees rather than a 2.5-percent increase to each individual.

In each of the last five years, Vance County hasn’t had a property tax change. It was 79.8 cents per $100 valuation in 2008-2009 and then dropped to the current 78.2 cents.

Before Hester left Thursday, he said he respected other commissioners’ decisions to continue looking over the budget and wanted the county manager to be accountable.

“I don’t think the budget is where it should be,” Hester said during the meeting.

Commissioners expressed no hard feelings toward Hester for walking out of the meeting. Instead, they said they felt he did what he needed to do.

“He didn’t walk out because he was angry,” Commissioner Eddie Wright said Friday. “He felt that what he wanted was accomplished and didn’t feel that we should be going over it line by line. There are some boards where there is a lot of arguing between board members, but I don’t see that. We don’t hold grudges; we are men and ladies, and we are supposed to be professionals.”

Commissioner Dan Brummitt said the problems with the budget started long before it was presented.

“We should have given our suggestions and wishes to the staff before they derived the budget in the first place,” he said during the meeting.

Commissioner Terry Garrison said Friday the board failed to give proper direction to staff and department heads about what they wanted to see in the budget this year.

“This is something that has been done ever since I’ve been on the board,” said Garrison, who was first elected in 1988. “I think that’s what’s been the real disaster this year in letting management come back with the budget is that we didn’t give them the right guidance to effectively do that.”

Chairwoman Deborah Brown said the detailed reviews were necessary for that reason. During the meeting, she moved for the board to continue with the work sessions.

“I think we owe it to the departments to go through the budget in this manner,” she said during the meeting. “Going through the budget in this manner gives the departments and the public the opportunity to takes notes and see what the commissioners do as board members in representing them. If you don’t want to go through the line by line process, please do not deprive the others that wish to do so.”

Six commissioners continued the three-hour work session Thursday discussing the planning and development and central services budgets without making any expenditure cuts.

The board is stalled on whether to incorporate a greater portion of the Recreation and Parks Department in its budget, as requested by the Henderson City Council. Commissioners put its section review off until after a June 2 committee meeting.

Antonia Pedroza, director of Vance County Department of Social Services, spoke about staff additions to help her accommodate the growing need for children’s services, such as foster care and child protective services.

The department submitted a $10 million budget for which funding is split between the county and the state. The county will see $200,000 added to its portion of the social services budget.

“The county is going to try to accommodate that, for sure,” Ayscue said.

Linwood Martin, director of veterans services, also answered questions about his department’s needs, which sparked conversation about adding more staff hours as well.

“If we find some extra money in the budget, we will definitely try to accommodate you, Mr. Martin,” Brown said.

The board ended its meeting before addressing all the department heads. Brown told them that they could return Tuesday if they wanted, but it was not required.

The board has designated a portion of its Monday meeting for a public hearing on the budget.

 

Contact the writer at dhairston@hendersondispatch.com.