BEAUFORT — During budget discussions Monday evening,Carteret County commissioners requested a number of additional spending items be included in the county manager’s recommended fiscal 2021-22 budget, including two sheriff’s patrol deputies, expanded hours at two library branches and increased public school system supplemental pay.
The County Board of Commissioners met at the administration complex in Beaufort to hold a public hearing and discuss the proposed budget, which was introduced to commissioners last month by county manager Tommy Burns and finance director Dee Meshaw. Nobody spoke during the public hearing, and the board is expected to adopt the annual tax-and-spend plan during its next regular monthly meeting Monday, June 21.
Officials from the Carteret County public school system, Carteret Community College and the fire/EMS commission presented their budget requests to commissioners during Monday’s meeting, with superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson appeared on behalf of the school system to explain its $24,494,910 local operating budget request.
He highlighted the spending items driving a slight increase this year over last in the school system’s request, including flood insurance costs, an employee assistance plan, a new transportation program in partnership with CCC and employee benefits and salary increases. He also showed commissioners how he plans to use federal COVID-19 education relief funds to cover proposed increases in local supplements for the next several years.
Dr. Jackson asked for a 1.25% increase in the certified supplement, which is provided to employees who are required to hold some kind of certificate, like teachers and counselors, to bring it from 5.75% to 7%. He also requested a 2% increase in the classified supplement, which is for non-teacher employees, such as bus drivers and janitorial staff, to bring it up from 1.75% to 3.75%.
Commissioner Robin Comer suggested a larger certified supplemental increase, perhaps to bring it up to 7.75%, to make the county more competitive in attracting teachers.
“We haven’t gone up on any of this stuff in a long time and I think it’s time to make a real jump,” he said. “…It’s there to incentivize (choosing) Carteret County.”
Commissioner Mark Mansfield recommended if the county boosts the certified supplement, to do it for the classified supplement, as well.
The proposed budget recommends funding $23,992,500 of the school system’s operating request, plus about $2.68 million worth of capital projects.
The board then heard from CCC President Dr. Tracy Mancini regarding the college’s $3,776,390 local budget request, a figure that includes $1 million in capital project money. Dr. Mancini noted the largest increase in the college’s request this year compared to last is for salaries and benefits for two new employees – a custodian for the new culinary arts building and an additional groundskeeper.
The proposed budget recommends funding $3,775,000 of the community college’s request, including the full $1 million for capital. Commissioners didn’t suggest any changes to CCC’s budget recommendation.
County Sheriff Asa Buck also appeared at Monday’s meeting to appeal to the board for funding for additional deputies. He said he’d requested six new positions, including four patrol deputies, but the recommended budget only includes funding for two new positions – an electronic monitoring deputy and converting a court specialist from part- to full-time.
Sheriff Buck asked commissioners reconsider the request and add two patrol deputies to keep up with increasing demands on the unit. He said he hasn’t added any new deputies since fiscal 2013-14.
“Over the past several years with the amount of turnover that we’ve had, the number of injuries that we’ve had, just having the adequate personnel in the patrol division to do what needs to be done, to answer all the calls for service that we receive, to try to do as much patrol as we can throughout the county, it’s really very difficult,” he said. “…The patrol division is really stretched.”
Commissioners seemed to agree with Sheriff Buck’s assessment and said they supported adding the two extra deputies as requested. Commissioner Chris Chadwick said he believes a healthy sheriff’s office is essential for maintaining public safety and a high quality of life.
“I feel like a good sheriff’s office and a good school system enhance the good quality of life in the county,” he said.
Adding the two deputies would tack on an additional $120,149 to the manager’s recommended $11.43 million budget for the sheriff’s office.
During further discussions, commissioners brought up a few more areas of the budget they would like to tweak. Board Chairperson Ed Wheatly broached the subject of the county’s public library system, which has been under some scrutiny in the past year since leaving the regional, tri-county system.
One of the most frequent complaints Mr. Wheatly said he’s fielded is over reduced hours at the Down East and Bogue Banks branches, which are currently open three days a week, versus five days like the other branches. He recommended expanding hours at the two branches to be open five days a week in order to more accurately gauge the usage of each branch.
“What I would like to see us to do to bring things to level the playing field is open each one of our libraries the same amount of time for each one, monitor it for a year and see what kind of usage we’re getting of that service,” he said.
After monitoring the situation for a year, Mr. Wheatly said the county would have a better idea of how to appropriately divvy up resources between the branches. The proposed budget recommends $1,450675 in spending on the system.
Finally, Mr. Chadwick suggested the county provide a one-time funding allocation of $45,000 to The Bridge Downeast. The organization previously requested an annual contribution, but Mr. Chadwick and other commissioners said they want to monitor the program’s progress over the next year or so before committing the money on a recurring basis.
Doing some quick math, commissioner Mark Mansfield estimated the board’s extra requests could add somewhere between $700,000 to $1 million of additional spending to the proposed budget.
“The money’s got to come from (somewhere). There is no additional money, it’s either got to be a tax increase or we’ve got to take it from somewhere and give it to somebody else,” he cautioned.
Mr. Burns and Ms. Meshaw said they’ll try to incorporate as many of the board’s suggestions as possible while continuing to maintain a balanced budget without raises taxes. They will return with a revised budget before the next board of commissioners meeting June 21.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.