County Votes 6-1 To Approve Lean Budget

SNOW HILL – Even as they
passed the fiscal year 2011 budget this week, elected officials predicted that
fiscal year 2012 would pose continuing financial problems.

The County Commissioners
balanced the budget for the next fiscal year in part with strict cuts to
departmental budgets.

“What they [department
heads cutting their budgets] did this year, they’re not going to be able to do
next year,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “They can’t sustain it.”

There is nothing else to
cut, he said. Consequently, the county has less than 1 percent of its interfund
stabilization funds left, about $136,000, Shockley said.

“That’s cutting it
tight, it really is,” he said.

Shockley did not come
out and say taxes would need to be raised in coming years, but he clearly feels
it’s likely in the future. He pointed out that the 70 cents per $100 of
assessed value property tax rate, which was dropped from 73 cents in 2006, was
70 cents in 1998 when he first ran for office.

“We are to the point now
where we’re going to have to make some tough decisions next year,” Shockley

Real estate tax revenue
will once again go down next year, after the south end of the county is
reassessed, Shockley said.

The county has multiple
blue ribbon schools and has added full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten,
which was the right thing to do, Shockley said.

“It’s to the point where
we have to get serious about saving what we can save everywhere,” Shockley
said. “Everybody has to be part of the solution or next year we’re not going to
be able to maintain what we’ve become accustomed to maintaining.”

Although he had some
misgivings about voting for the fiscal year 2011 budget, Shockley said he had
decided to support the spending plan in the end.

“We’re going to be in
pretty deep straits in the future. I’m not looking forward to a tax increase,”
said Commissioner Linda Busick.

The county needs to
think outside the box to handle expenses in the future, Busick said.

With $10.4 million less
to work with, the reduced fiscal year 2011 Worcester County budget is now a
reality. The county has $163.2 million to work with in fiscal year 2011, which
begins in July, a 6-percent drop from fiscal year 2010. The property tax rate
of 70 cents per $100 of assessed value will remain the same.

“I’ve wrassled over this
thing quite a bit. We’ve had a lot of heated discussions … I just can’t agree
with this budget at this time,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger. 

Commission President Bud
Church said he was happy to put the budget behind the board.

“This has been a very
difficult year…this was not a fun year when it came to working on the budget,”
said Church.

The budget includes no
new spending, no salary increases for staff or teachers and holds the schools
to the state mandated maintenance of effort funding level.

“We were able to avoid
furloughs and lay-offs which was very important,” Church said.

Commissioner Judy Boggs
noted the commissioners held the line on property and piggyback tax rate and
held staff and teachers accountable.

“I’m proud to vote for
this budget,” said Boggs. “They have not received a pay increase for two years
now that has been a huge part of us being able to do this.”

“We have our taxpayers
at heart,” Commissioner Jim Purnell said.

“I’m proud to put my
name on this budget,” Commissioner Louise Gulyas said.

The commissioners voted
6 to 1 to approve the fiscal year 2011 budget. Cowger voted against the