LUMBERTON — The county’s finance director warned Robeson County commissioners on Tuesday that the county must stop depending on its General Fund to meet funding requests that are not included in the annual fiscal budgets that go into effect every July 1.
“I’m glad we are tightening up,” Commissioner Tom Taylor said. “We can’t spend money we don’t have.”
The commissioners got their first look during a brief budget work session Tuesday at the county’s proposed $151 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Commissioners Noah Woods, Hubert Sealey and Raymond Cummings did not attend.
“There is no absolute solution to all the budgetary requests and problems, but with the continued support of all departments we can provide the highest level of customer service, sustain operations and serve our citizens the best overall,” County Manager Ricky Harris said.
The proposal keeps the tax rate the same at 77 cents for every $100 of property and does not include a cost-of-living increase for employees.
Kellie Blue, the director of the Finance Department, said department heads are being advised not to come forward after the budget is approved and ask for money for major expenditures. Money from the General Fund has been used to meet such needs, a practice that Blue says is not good financial management.
Blue cautioned the commissioners to watch their overall spending since the county has continued to provide more services without increasing revenue by bumping he property tax rate, which is among the highest in the state.
“You are not increasing your revenue but supplying the same or more services,” Blue said. “These things catch up with you over time.”
According to Blue, the proposed budget includes a General Fund of about $111.6 million.
“This budget is tight,” Blue said. “It mirrors the current budget.”
The proposal calls for the hiring of two new employees, a registered nurse for health care at the jail, and a deputy sheriff for the county’s pre-trial program. It includes a $1 million increase in the cost of health insurance and $350,000 for new cars for the Sheriff’s Office.
Harris said that all special appropriations will remain at the same level as they are in the current year except for increases for Teen Court, United Way, Southeast Economic Partnership and the Robeson County Public Library.
According to Harris, the county is recommending that the commissioners implement a recently completed pay and compensation plan.
“The pay and compensation study can be implemented over the next two budget years … without a cost of living adjustment,” Harris told the commissioners.
The commissioners had few questions during the brief session. They will hold another budget work session after their next regular monthly meeting on Monday.