Tough choices

Published 10:04 am Tuesday, June 10, 2014

WINDSOR – Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer cites nine criteria that his office considered in crafting the proposed 2014-15 fiscal year budget for the county:

Does it enhance or protect the quality of life for our citizens?

Is it prudent?

Is it imperative?

Is this a citizen-based request?

Is there a Strategic Board initiative?

Should this be a state-mandated function?

Is there a contractual obligation?

Is there a moral obligation?

Is this just good business practice?

With this approach, Sauer and his staff went through hundreds of requests from individuals and organizations before submitting the $31.5 million budget proposal to the county commissioners.

“There’s always more to it,” Sauer said in his office as he prepared to review a line-item print-out of ‘Special Appropriations’. “This section is going to draw most of (the scrutiny).”

Included with school current expense, capital outlay for schools, Martin and Roanoke-Chowan Community Colleges, and money for the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail are other items that came to $5.38 million before the County Manager pared it down to $4.37 million.

The proposed budget message, along with the line-item detail, can be viewed by anyone with access to the county website (

Meanwhile, the County Commissioners met for two hours on Monday June 9, and reviewed eight or nine departments, line-by-line, but no decisions were made.

“They are still looking at items to keep, some others to put off, and still others that may be eliminated,” the county manager said.

The five commissioners will meet again today (Tuesday) for their second work session, and other sessions could continue through the week.

Meanwhile, Sauer revealed Monday that there was one omission from the proposed budget, and that omission just might be enough to cut the proposed tax rate increase in half from 20 cents down to 10 cents.

The item mentioned would be a line-item transfer (the proposal contains several). This one specifically would transfer funds from the Schools Capital Reserve Fund to the General Fund and then transfer from the General Fund to Debt Service when done. Sauer said that would amount to a saving of nearly $1.2 million for the county.

“That could take some of the tension out of the idea of a 20 cents tax increase, cutting it in half,” Sauer said on Monday.

A public hearing is still set for Monday, June 16 at 7 p.m. also in the Commissioner’s Room at the county office building in Windsor.

“At this time more budget changes or adjustments will be fully explained,” he stated.

“The whole report is available, page after page,” Sauer continued. “So a person can get into it and really dig into the details.”

For his presentation of the budget proposal before the county’s Board of Commissioners on Monday June 2, the County Manager admits he hit the big items.

“But it’s the little ones that cause the most discussion,” he maintains.

At his office on Thursday, Sauer reviewed the key line-items contained in the Special Appropriations section of the budget proposal that will be up for discussion.

“This is kind of a catch-all category, so they’re all over the place,” Sauer said.

These include:

The recommended appropriation for the Family Resource Center in Aulander, also known as ‘The Hive’ for FY 14-15 is $15,000, down from the $25,000 request from the group in last year’s budget.

Sauer said he equated that with the recommendation of an increase in the funding amount for Roanoke-Chowan Community College, which was cut out of the budget a year ago, but this year has been recommended for an appropriation of $35,000 after they requested $87,800.

“He (RCCC President Dr. Michael Elam) has a lot of ideas related to things like water-safety training and (the college) being a hub of public safety water rescue. But this is just one of many in the college’s vision for the future.”

The ‘Highway 17′  lobbying group that wants to get US 17 up to four-lane status from border to border requested $4,000, but were recommended for $2,000.

Other requests came from the local Food Bank of the Albemarle: $2,000; Juvenile Probation: $2,600; and the Partnership for the Sounds: $7,000.

“This is the group that supports the (Roanoke/Cashie) River Center on the Cashie River,” Sauer explained. “That’s one of the county’s primary tourist centers.”

Bertie County YMCA: $10,000

They’re a new group,” the county manager said. “They were not included in past budgets but they are suggesting that there are opportunities where the county Parks and Recreation can partner with the YMCA on things like sharing staff or joint programming.  They requested (their amount), and whether they will be funded, I have no idea; but they have a very active board with a lot of enthusiasm.”

N.C. Forestry Service: $104,445

“They’re a state agency that contracts with individual counties to provide fire protection for woods,” Sauer explained. “They gave a presentation about all the fires they put out and timber management services that they provide.  That number is up a little bit because they’re in the process of replacing some equipment and the county pays a portion of the price of the truck.”

Lawrence Memorial Public Library: $100,764

“That building really needs a new roof after some bad wind storms several weeks ago, and we’re estimating that roof may cost as much as $60,000,” Sauer said of the Windsor-based public library. “They have a reserve account in their (Albemarle Regional Library) system just for the building here in Windsor of about $400,000.  We’re suggesting they use a portion of that fund to help repair the roof.”

Some of the appropriations are small requests such as $880 for Three-Rivers Healthy Carolinians, Roanoke-Chowan SAFE (Shelter for Abused Families with Emergencies): $1,000, or Roanoke River Partners: $1,500, a Windsor-based non-profit that promotes the communities along the river.

“Things like these may be of interest (to the citizens), and then again it may cause friction,” Sauer reasoned. “There are arguments on both sides.  If people have concerns I think the board (Commissioners) will listen to what’s out there.”