Budget options discussed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2007

WINTON – There are two options concerning the 2007-08 Hertford County budget.

Hertford County Manager Loria D. Williams laid those out for the county board of commissioners Monday evening.

“If we don’t budget with Medicaid relief in mind, we will have to raise taxes,” Williams told the board. “Those are our two options.”

In a scheduled budget work session, the board looked at their options. The original budget proposal from Williams contained no tax increase, but no increases in any expenditure including schools and county departments, the commissioners have heard requests from a variety of agencies concerning funding.

Also, during the time since the original budget proposal, the North Carolina House of Representatives has approved $100 million in Medicaid relief for counties. If passed by the N.C. Senate it would mean roughly $1.1 million in savings for Hertford County.

The problem for Hertford and other counties is the Senate has not passed the measure at this time, leaving all of the counties struggling to figure out how to budget the projected relief.

“I’ve been talking to my counterparts in the surrounding area,” Williams told the board. “Some of them are budgeting 100 percent relief, but I don’t think we can afford to do that.”

The manager said her concern was if the county budgeted the entire $1.1 million and the Senate did not grant any relief from Medicaid, that entire sum would come from fund balance, a hit she said the county can’t afford to take.

She suggested the commissioners budget half of the savings or $550,000.

“Gentlemen, I urge you to look at three things and let everything else wait,” she said. “If we are going to base our budget on a gamble, and we are, we need to look at the public schools, public health and Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Everything else would have to wait other than the very essential.”

In a working document presented to the board, Williams suggested allotting $250,000 in additional funding to Hertford County Public Schools and $50,000 each to Roanoke-Chowan Community College and the Hertford County Public Health Authority.

There were other items that had to be changed due to information coming in since the budget was presented, but those three items took up $350,000 of the prospective $550,000 budgeted savings. Williams also left $90,000 unbudgeted and suggested the commissioners could use that money as they saw fit in the budget.

Williams said she was suggesting budgeting half of Medicaid relief because the county would have to raise taxes if they didn’t and that it was possible the money would come.

“Once we set the tax rate, it is what it is,” Williams said. “There’s no going back and reducing it if the relief comes through.”

Commission Chairman Curtis A. Freeman said he was “totally against a tax increase at this time.

“I believe we have to roll the dice,” he said.

Williams said, “If $550,000 is what you’re comfortable with, I still urge you to be very conservative knowing this is still up in the air. If we learn we will get the entire relief funding before we adopt the budget, we can do anything you want from that point.”

The board took the suggested changes to the budget under advisement and agreed to revisit the budget on June 4.

Later in the meeting, Williams suggested postponing the budget public hearing until the last meeting in June, scheduled for June 18.

Asked if the board would adopt the budget at that time, she said the board could, but they could also wait until the last minute to see if Medicaid relief was forthcoming. State law requires the budget to be adopted by June 30.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, William reiterated the board had made no decisions on Monday evening.

“They received information about what they could possibly do and they’re reviewing it,” she said. “We will take it up again on June 4.”