Wake County Manager David Cooke presented the proposed budget to county commissioners today. Slowing growth and declining tax revenue mean the county’s budget will be $30 million less than last year.
The balanced $953.6 million budget is down 3 percent over last year, but it does not include layoffs, furloughs or tax increases. County employees will face a wage freeze under the proposal and departments are cutting costs by 10 percent.
The county will eliminate 122 positions under the proposal, but only 20 of those are actually filled. The county manager said those employees will be offered spots in the 95 remaining vacant positions. Those employees whose jobs are cut will also have the option to take a severance package. The county’s hiring freeze, which has been in effect since last year, will be lifted this summer to fill those vacancies. Most of those open jobs are in the Human Services Department.
The employee healthcare plan is $1.6 million short, but half of that has been made up in the budget. For the remaining $800,000 shortfall, Cooke says that could be addressed by changing the health plan or raising employee premiums.
Under the proposed budget, the Wake County school system will have to make $3.3 million in cuts. The Board of Education asked for $316.8 million, but the budget proposal has $313.5 million for schools. “Essentially, it came down to what we could afford with our available resources,” Cooke said.
Wake Technical Community College will receive the same amount it got last year, $16.7 million. Most of Wake Tech’s operating budget comes from tuition and fees.
The budget proposal recommends closing the Duraleigh Road and Athens Drive libraries. The library at Athens Drive High School will still be open for students, but under the proposal it will no longer be available for the public.
The Duraleigh Road branch will close this summer, to be replaced by the new Leesville Road Library slated to open this fall. Library hours across the county will also be cut, but it’s not clear what those cuts will be yet. One of the county’s two Bookmobiles will also be cut under the proposed budget.
The county manager says the Leesville Library will stay on track. The ground breaking for the new Wake County Animal Care, Control and Adoption Center expansion is still scheduled for August and should open July 2010. The new mental health facilities will also stay on track under the proposal, with opening scheduled for fall of 2010. The Hammond Road Detention Center expansion will also stay on track.
The fate of the new justice center, planned for the corner of South Saunders and Martin streets, is less clear. Demolition is almost complete on the site, but, Cooke said, the county “will continue to evaluate the capital program to determine the best debt financing options for the justice center.”
Cooke said work on the libraries and open space will be delayed under the plan. All of the library construction and renovation projects that were planned for the next two years will be pushed back to 2011. Bond-funded open spaces will also be postponed until 2011.