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Bertie trims budget

WINDSOR — It’s time to tighten the belt. Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb instructed the county’s department heads to cut their annual budgets by three percent in a memo sent out on November 21. That memo was endorsed Monday during the regular session of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners. “As you know, the state is anticipating a $3 billion deficit in their budget,” Lamb said. “We have not seen the sales tax figures for September or October, but we are sure the state is basing their estimate on those figures.” Lamb said thus far Bertie County citizens were paying their property taxes at approximately the same rate they had in previous years, but he was concerned that those who are traditionally late would be even later. The county manager then talked about areas in which the county could expect to see reduced revenue, including sales tax, ad valorem taxes, landfill host fees, excise taxes and permitting fees. “A lot of counties implemented cost-savings matters in the last month or two,” Lamb said. “This memo was sent out November 21 to ask our department heads to trim their budgets.” Lamb went on to say that at this time the trimming of budgets did not include the Bertie County Board of Education or any other outside agency that was funded in whole or part by the county. In addition to requesting an immediate three percent cut, which cannot include salary lapses from open positions, Lamb and Finance Officer Lydia Hoggard also requested department heads to identify two percent more if additional cuts became necessary. The memo also initiated a hiring freeze for all open positions in the county. Lamb said the freeze could not be absolute, but any hiring would have to have his prior approval which would be granted only when service to citizens would be compromised greatly. In addition, other cost-saving requirements include: * all travel in Bertie County is now limited and requires the approval of the county manager; * there has been a delay in all capital and major equipment expenditures and that expense could be reduced. All exceptions must be approved by Lamb; * departments are to order only essential supplies; and * Hoggard must pre-approve all purchase orders. In addition to freezing current positions, Lamb said he and Tax Administrator Hosea Wilson had agreed to push back the hiring of a new person in the tax office. That position was to come available April 1, 2009 under the current budget, but is being delayed until at least July. He also said other vacant positions – including one in the office of Bertie County Register of Deeds Belinda White, one in the Water Department and one in the maintenance division were being frozen at this point. “There may be cases in which we have to fill positions,” Lamb said. “We will look at those on a case-by-case basis.” The manager said while cutting back was no one’s favorite idea, it was necessary to make sure there wasn’t a huge hit to the county’s fund balance. “We don’t want to do this, but we have no choice,” Lamb said. “Revenues are not what we expected and this was a tight budget anyway. When you have been able to keep from raising taxes for seven years in a row, which you have, it means the budget has to be tight. We have to do something on the spending side to overcome the shortfall in revenues.” Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr. asked if the cutbacks would help keep the situation in Bertie County stable and Lamb said it would.