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County opts for savings, decides against tax cut

 

SARAH LOWERY

Staff Writer

Despite discussions of a possible cut to county property taxes, commissioners have decided to put cost reductions toward replenishing the county’s savings and keep the rate at its present level for the coming year.

The decision came during a Monday evening budget work session.

Though County Manager George Wood’s proposed budget calls for the property tax rate of 59.8 cents to remain the same, commissioners had wrestled with whether a slight decrease would be possible at an earlier budget session on May 23.

Commissioner Carl Robinson had volunteered to go through the budget with Wood to determine whether a cut would be feasible, specifically by eliminating $200,000 in expenditures.

However, after Wood presented those proposed cuts, commissioners decided in a unanimous vote Monday night that it would be best for the money to go toward building up the county’s fund balance, which has been reduced during the past two years of economic difficulty.

Out of the budget’s general fund, Wood proposed partial cuts, primarily in funding to outside agencies, such as the Arts Council, the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority, the Lincoln County Historical Association, Transportation Lincoln County and Communities in Schools.

Commissioner George Arena took issue with cutting some of the funding to the latter. Though he ultimately voted in favor of the cuts, he stated that he would have liked to see funding for Communities in Schools restored to its previous level.

“You have to start somewhere,” Robinson said of the proposed cuts, emphasizing that it was impossible to please everyone and that he believed they were the best places in the budget to find the $200,000.

Also during Monday night’s work session, commissioners unanimously approved an implementation plan for merit pay increases for county employees, having asked Wood to look into a merit-based system instead of the originally proposed 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

Some commissioners had previously expressed concern with an across-the-board raise for employees that would have taken effect July 1. According to the plan, employees will now be evaluated in July and August by their supervisors, prior to the county’s Human Resources Department reviewing the recommendations and completing the necessary paperwork. They will also be subject to review and approval by Wood.

Merit raises would then become effective the first pay period in October. Wood noted that the merit-increase program would allow the county to target problem areas, in addition to providing for more flexibility.

“I think this is a great step in the right direction,” Robinson said.

Commissioners will vote on the final budget during a special meeting on June 28 at 6:30 p.m.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

Wood alerted commissioners to the closure of the Parks and Recreation and Public Works shop on West Church Street in Lincolnton due to the possibility of loose lead-based paint and asbestos flooring tiles within the building. As the Times-News previously reported, the county is awaiting the results of testing on the materials following the Fire Marshal’s Office initial finding. Wood said they would have to start looking into their options, such as leasing temporarily or replacing the building. Employees are currently working out of temporary facilities.

After having looked in more detail at the budgets of the Union Fire Department and the East Lincoln Fire Department, both of whom are asking for increases in their tax rates, commissioners decided their requested increases were warranted.

As previously requested, Wood presented commissioners with information on contracts between the county and the city of Lincolnton. Specifically, he discussed two contracts where he believes the county is “being seriously underpaid,” namely regarding the 911 Communications Center and the Animal Shelter. Though it will not affect the 2012-2013 budget, commissioners agreed that there needs to be more communication with city officials moving forward on the discussed contracts.

 

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