Lincoln County commissioners took their first stab at the 2004-05 budget during a work session Tuesday.
During the meeting, the board heard from representatives from Lincoln County Schools, the tax department, the Department of Social Services, EMS, recreation and public works.
The school system had the most notable presence, filling up almost all of the three rows set up in the room for the public.
As commissioners and county officials sat facing each other at tables in the middle of the room, thick budget books spread out in front of them, department representatives one-by-one stated their cases for funding.
The board took no action on any of the requests and instead tabled the issues until the next work session, planned for Tuesday.
Commissioners spent some time discussing the Lincolnton/Lincoln County Recreation Departmentâ€™s need for an additional employee to staff the East Lincoln Community Center.
County Manager Stan Kiser cut that request from his proposed $91.7 million budget.
Commissioner Larry Craig said heâ€™s received comments that the recreation department should be doing more for east Lincoln residents. Commissioner Tom Anderson said the general perception of some residents is that the center is not available for use.
The East Lincoln Community Center is open from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, said Erma Deen Hoyle, the countyâ€™s recreation director. The department tried having some night hours last fall but didnâ€™t have much success.
The additional staff member, she said, would plan programs and allow the department to keep the center open for longer hours.
Craig also brought up concerns about no cost of living adjustment for county employees being included in the budget.
Last year, a COLA wasnâ€™t included, but commissioners approved one halfway through the fiscal year.
Craig said it will be necessary to look at that option again this year in order to retain employees. Some department heads, he said, are concerned about losing employees because of the lack of the COLA. He also suggested the county review its pay scale soon.
â€œI think weâ€™ve got some good employees that do a good job,â€ Craig said.
A 2.5 percent COLA would cost $421,292 for the year.
Another item of discussion was aerial photography for the tax department.
Administrator Madge Huffman originally asked for $150,000 for the photography, but it was cut from Kiserâ€™s budget.
Department officials are now looking at the possibility of joining up with six other counties for a regional photography project. Itâ€™s a benefit, they said, because it will provide a seamless look at much of the region.
The flight and 398 color tiles that would be created would cost about $210,000, which would be spread out over four years.
Delaying the project will push the county farther and farther away from having an accurate representation of development, Huffman said.
The Lincoln County School System is requesting $12.5 million for current expenses, an $839,000 increase over last year. The 7.2 percent increase is the smallest in four years.
The district is asking for $1.07 million in capital outlay. Thatâ€™s $126,000 more than last year. And it might be possibly to pay that amount using bond money, Superintendent Jim Watson said.
During the presentation, school board members and teachers made passionate pleas and emphasized the importance of technology, music, athletics, teacher supplements and new programs like JROTC at West Lincoln High School.
Commissioners will meet again at 3 p.m. Tuesday to hear requests from the Lincoln County Sheriffâ€™s Office, Lincoln Economic Development Association, the library, Management Information Systems and the fire marshal.by Alice Smith