The Sampson Board of Commissioners met for a matter of minutes Wednesday before directing staff to construct a 2016-17 budget ordinance that was unanimously approved in short order.
The approved 2016-17 plan includes no tax increase, a cost of living bump for all county employees and a rise in per pupil funding for the school systems. That was accomplished while making more than the requisite cuts toward implementing a pay plan for employees.
Wednesday’s quick approval went against what has usually been in the norm in Sampson County government come budget time, which has consisted of multiple meetings, long discussions and divisiveness, sometimes stalemates in voting. That trend was averted last year,when, although there was some disagreement among the board and a 4-1 vote, the budget received a June approval. The three years preceding that, budget deliberations went well into July under an interim budget.
This year, however, all of that was avoided and the budget not only received a June 15 approval but also a unanimous vote, pieces that have not all come together in many years.
Kicking off the discussion, Commissioners Clark Wooten and Sue Lee said any questions they had about the budget had been answered.
“There wasn’t many of them. It was a short list,” said Wooten, who thanked county manager Ed Causey, assistant manager Susan Holder, finance officer David Clack and others. “It’s a testament to their professionalism that they were able to do this, and take direction from all five of us.”
“And do it without a tax increase,” Chairman Billy Lockamy added.
Other commissioners also lauded staff. Commissioners Harry Parker and Albert Kirby did express some concern, Parker for his constituents and Kirby with discretionary spending. Kirby pointed to the $50,000 in funding being allocated for the Sampson County History Museum, while requests by Sampson High School Alumni Association and others were not funded.
“That’s not fair for $50,000 to go to the History Museum when the Sampson Alumni Association is asking for money,” Kirby noted. “That would be the only reason I would vote no for this budget.”
With no other discussion, a 15-minute recess was taken and county staff directed to put together the ordinance.
The 2016-17 recommended General Fund amount totals $56,889,224, which is roughly a 3.3 percent increase over the current year’s approved General Fund total of $55,087,932. The tax rate is proposed to remain at 83.5 cents per $100 valuation. A penny on the tax rate generates $418,458.
The implementation of a $3.7 million pay plan required the county to reduce expenditures by $1,191,391 within four years. Of that amount, $395,497 was to be achieved for the 2016-17. To date, about $1.05 million in savings has already been approved, Causey said. A cost of living increase was also budgeted, the cost of which is $201,000.
In his budget message, Causey said that was “an investment in maintaining one of the primary goals of the pay study implementation: to ensure our wages reflect current market so that we can retain employees.”
Sampson is projected to receive about $1.43 million from the expanded sales tax, a good chunk of which — $800,000 — will be used to pay on debt for school construction. Another $301,605 of the proceeds for school operating expenses, which will increase the per pupil funding to $975 per student, up from the current $930, for Clinton City and Sampson County schools. Sampson Community College capital improvements will be funded at $250,000 and another $75,709 will be dedicated to economic development.
Causey said property tax revenues are also expected to increase by $714,986, projecting a collection rate of 97 percent.
Also in the budget, a special contingency account of $166,035 will be established, representing the excess in savings realized for 2016-17 over the $345,497 amount needed for the pay plan; an17 Sheriff’s vehicles, one ambulance, a QRV, a vehicle for the fire inspector, three vehicles for Social Services and one truck for Parks and Recreation.
There will be $750,000 allocated for the maintenance of buildings and $69,000 for the ongoing purchase of needed equipment for the Board of Elections. Despite a few small modifications, the budget presented by Causey at the end of last month and the subject of a June 6 public hearing remain unchanged, Clack said.
Coming back from the break Wednesday, there was a bit more discussion and then Lockamy made a motion for the budget’s approval, quickly seconded by Parker. Kirby then offered a few comments.
“There’s the matter of discretionary but I’m OK with the budget,” he said before going into some general statements. “When you hear politicians talking about making America great again, I think ‘when was America not great?’ Do we want to go back to a time when women did not vote and people were being lynched left and right?”
The Democrat commissioner said none of the Republicans in the room were included in any of his statements, but he felt he had to offer the remarks.
“I agree with Mr. Kirby,” said Wooten. “America is great.”
After the unanimous vote, Wooten went even further.
“I’m a much better person because of the four of y’all,” he said, speaking to his fellow commissioners. “I appreciate all of you, I’ve learned a lot from being with you and I’m personally proud of what we’ve all done.”
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