An exhaustive effort to show the Sampson Board of Commissioners the impacts of a 5 percent across-the-board countywide cut was made moot in a matter of minutes Wednesday.
In a 3-2 vote, the board approved a 4.5-cent tax bump that would take the current rate to 83 cents per $100 valuation, from 78.5 cents, essentially taking a 62-page document summarizing some $2 million in countywide cuts — and more than 70 jobs lost — off the table before being considered.
That document was to be the subject of an all-day budget workshop scheduled to extend from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, with every county entity and its partners set to present the impact of the 5 percent slash. Most departments were scheduled for 15 minutes, some were set to be heard for 30 minutes and a couple others were in line for an hour.
The board directed staff at the end of last month to have all county departments compile budgets showing the 5 percent reduction, on top of cuts already made. County manager Ed Causey’s initial 2014-15 budget proposal called for a 9 cent tax increase, however that recommended budget had been whittled to a 5.25-cent hike.
“We took the charge you made very seriously and met with all the department heads Monday morning, June 30, to establish the ground rules of what we were wanting to do,” Causey explained to the board in opening Wednesday’s session.
Through the following week, county department heads culled through their budgets and looked for ways to ax 5 percent, after which Finance officer David Clack, Assistant County Manager Susan Holder and Causey spent “all day long” for two consecutive days on July 8 and 9 going through those proposals, the county manager said.
“We asked the department heads to limit their executive summaries to a page and a half,” Causey remarked. “I think all the department heads worked diligently to do this and I have explained to everybody this is not an exercise. If we get through this and the board wants to move forward with this, then I’m prepared to aggressively implement whatever is decided.”
“This is not a day we are interested in justifying our existence. The task at hand is to do a 5 percent reduction and what the impacts would be on the budget. We asked department heads to limit information that is given to what is in (executive summaries),” Causey stated.
The county manager was matter-of-fact in his assessment.
“There is some loss of personnel. I was emphatic that it had to be permanent reductions and if, in fact, that meant reductions in people so be it. We wanted to make sure we were complying with the intent of what this board was trying to accomplish,” Causey asserted.
Board chairman Jefferson Strickland called it a “difficult time” and thanked department heads for preparing their modified budgets.
“All your work, sweat and tears on behalf of Sampson County have been appreciated, are appreciated and will continue to be appreciated even after we sound the final gavel today,” Strickland said.
According to the proposals set to be considered, but ultimately set aside Wednesday, a 5 percent cut was expected to nix more than $2 million in county funds and eliminate 74 positions, not including two teaching and two custodial positions to be axed from Sampson County Schools.
According to the proposals, a 5 percent reduction would have taken huge chunks from the Sheriff’s Office/Detention Center ($499,396, 11 positions); DSS ($236,538, 48 positions); and Sampson EMS ($193,796, five positions). The Tax Office and Communications would have lose multiple positions, while Health, Register of Deeds, Department of Aging, the Library, Finance and Administration would each lose one.
For DSS, the 5 percent reduction in county dollars would have had to essentially be doubled to $566,538 when taking into account state and federal matches. DSS already was cut $330,000 during budget deliberations, subject to the same doubled-up impact. All told, a 5 percent reduction on top of the previous cut would send nearly 50 people home, DSS director Sarah Bradshaw estimated.
“I’ve looked at it and I think it’s going to interfere with our pay study that we’re fixing to do. I think we’re trying to do too much at one time,” Commissioner Billy Lockamy said, estimating 75 jobs lost.
Following the 3-2 vote to approve the 4.5-cent tax hike, Strickland said the across-the-board 5 percent cut — and the accompanying summaries — could still be examined during a special session if the board desired.
“This is an after-thought,” the chairman offered. “This could be an educational tool as well if you would like to do that. Would you like to set aside a date where we can have the department heads come and make these presentations to you? I just mention this to see if you have an interest in it.”
“That’s what I thought we were here today for,” Commissioner Harry Parker commented.
Strickland said the board could still proceed. Commissioner Albert Kirby answered that he did not feel the need to go forward with an all-day session that was made moot by the vote for a tax increase. Causey said the matter could be revisited in the coming months.
“Once we make the adjustments, this becomes information that can be used as a tool or a basis for you to review at whatever point in the next few months that you would like to consider it,” Causey told the board. “There’s nothing that says that you can’t come back here and adjust the budget at any period of time.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-249-4616. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.