LUMBERTON — Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris’ proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for no property tax increase, includes an across-the-board pay hike for county employees, and raises the cost of water and some ambulance services.
Under Harris’ total proposed budget of about $145.5 million, which includes a General Fund of almost $107 million, county employees would receive a 2 percent cost-of-living increase, and all non-emergency essential county offices — including the courts — would be closed during the week of Christmas. Also, all special appropriations, except for the Lumberton Municipal Airport, Robeson Community College, COMtech and the Robeson County Public Library, would remain the same as the current fiscal year.
The budget also calls for giving the schools a total of $12,375,000 for current expenses and $4,700,000 for capital outlay. According to Harris, the figures are about the same as the county allocated for the schools in the current budget.
“We have strived to develop essential and sustainable recommendations that will maintain the quality of life for our employees and citizens of Robeson County,” Harris told the commissioners during their first budget work session of the year held Thursday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “With the continued stagnant economy there is no single solution to all the budgetary problems, but with the continued support of all departments, we can provide a superior level of service.”
At no time during the hour-long session did the commissioners mention their pay, benefits and discretionary funds. Two commissioners were absent, Chairman Noah Woods, who is attending a national conference, and David Edge.
Commissioner Tom Taylor, who chaired the work session in the absence of Woods, told The Robesonian after the meeting that the commissioners are likely to discuss and possibly do something related to their pay and benefits when the board holds its final budget work session.
The next work session will be held immediately after the commissioners hold their regular meeting on June 3. There may be a third work session scheduled at a later time, Taylor said.
If the property tax rate remains the same as the current fiscal year, it will be 77 cents for every $100 of property value, which is the 17th highest property tax rate in the state.
Harris is recommending water rates increase from 5 to 7 percent.
“The water increase is necessary to maintain and continue to improve our (water) system,” Harris told the commissioners.
Harris also said that an increase in the ambulance fee charged by Emergency Medical Services is necessary to “maximize the return from Medicaid and Medicare costs.”
According to Harris, his proposed budget provides for the continuation and addition of several Public Works projects.
“We are developing the addition of waterlines and water tanks at the Lumber Bridge and Campbell Soup, Maxton, water plant sites,” Harris told the commissioners. “More projects include Solid Waste adding several new compaction stations, opening of the one-stop center on Caton Road, and (establishment of) an online payment system for Water Department customer service. EMS, in conjunction with the Communications Center, has implemented GPS tracking to all our ambulance vehicles for improved trip times.”
Harris also told the commissioners that his proposal to close “non-emergency essential offices” during the week of Christmas is supported by the Administrative Office of Courts.
“Closing the offices would reduce utility expenses and provide additional administrative time to further improve customer service,” he said.
During the 75-minute work session, the commissioners made no motions to change anything in the proposed budget that would become effective July 1.