Cuts Still Part of (Slightly) Larger Wake Budget

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Wake County’s budget will increase next year — but not by much. Many county departments could see cuts next year in a budget proposal presented Monday.

The recommended $951.5 million Fiscal Year 2012 budget is only $300,000 more than this year’s spending plan. The proposal maintains the current property tax rate of 53.4 cents.

Wake County Commissioners received the county manager’s budget proposal this week for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The proposal cuts the Health and Human Services budget by $14 million, but increases the schools budget by $900,000.

County employees would get a 2 percent raise but be required to contribute more to health insurance and retirement. And retiree health benefits would be cut for all employees hired after July 1 of this year.

See the full budget.

Comparing the economy and recent county budgets to a roller coaster ride, County Manager David Cooke spoke optimistically about the figures.

He said despite economists’ heralding the end of the recession, county revenues peaked in 2009 and have descended from there. The FY 2010 budget was $30 million less than that of FY 2009. Property tax growth used to average between 5 and 6 percent per year. For the past two years combined, that growth has been less than 3 percent.

But for the first time since 2009, the county’s primary revenue sources — property taxes and sales taxes — are not predicted to decline. The tax base will grow by 1 percent, more than double the rate of last year, Cooke said, with a laugh.  Sales tax, which historically grew by 7 percent, is expected to increase by 1.8 percent, or $2 million.

“I will share some words from our homegrown young star, American Idol finalist Scotty McCreery, who said ‘if my life were a song, it would probably be titled ‘Roller Coaster,’ up and down all the time,’” Cooke said. “If this budget were a song, it would be titled ‘Roller Coaster,’ up and down all the time. But let’s face it; Scotty McCreery is on the up and up. And we hope the local economy is as well.”

Commissioners are scheduled to approve the budget June 20, after a series of hearings and a work session.

Cooke outlined the updates or changes portion of the budget, starting with the county’s key areas of focus: core services, realigning resources without a property tax increase and maintaining the planning focus.

Aside from a few basic questions, there was little reaction from commissioners, except Betty Lou Ward, who mentioned the political hot potato: a tax increase.

Ward said she’s never had so many emails and phone calls about cuts to human services programs.

“I think when I look at the services provided and the individuals hurt by the cutback … It just seems to me the only thing we could do is raise taxes,” she said. “It’s not a very popular thing to discuss … but I do think it’s something that should be considered. Those individuals have no place to go.”

Representatives of those programs spoke during the commission’s public comment section, including Ann Burke of Urban Ministries of Wake County. She said she understood commissioners have to make tough decisions during these economic times.

“We make those decisions every single day,” she said. “They cry, they beg, they scream, they curse, they threaten to sue me because of their desperation. For many … there are no other services for them.”

Alice Lutz of the United Way of Wake County, thanked the board for not making bigger cuts, but questioned the board’s priorities.

“What is the $90,000 being cut going to do that is more important than helping the most fragile citizens of Wake County?” she asked.

The Breakdown

Cooke said the budget maintains or increases funding for the county’s highest priorities: education, public safety and mental health.

Department heads cut their budgets by 3 percent, resulting in “a budget that is essentially no larger than last year, but accommodates a lot of ups and downs along the way,” Cooke said.

Education makes up 35 percent of the budget, with a $330.4 million allocation. That’s an increase of $900,000 from the current fiscal year.

Wake Tech will receive $16 million, which is no change from this year.

County Government is the largest chunk, or 43 percent of the entire budget. This portion breaks out into Public Safety, General Government, Human Services and Community and Environmental Services. Of those, Human Services is the largest segment, with 51 percent of the funding.

  • The Public Safety budget is $99.4 million. It includes the county’s commitment to a new detention center on Hammond Road. The detention center, scheduled for completion by fall of 2012, requires 97 new employees, and the budget proposal allocates $3.5 million for those jobs and three months of operating costs.  The budget also allocates funding for six full-time employees for the City/County Bureau of Identification.
  • The Human Services budget is $211.7 million, a reduction of $14.4 million from this year. The budget includes funding for more beds at Wake Brooke Recovery Center, a mental health facility. Eight vacant full-time jobs will be cut as part of the proposal.
  • Community and Environmental Services will receive $33 million. This includes a reduction in $759,000 for the library book budget. Cooke said the library will buy a different mix of books starting in July and make some other changes to accommodate that cut.
  • General Government will receive $67.9 million. That portion of money covers the finance and revenue departments, human resources and more. It’s a $2.3 million reduction from this year’s budget and includes 5.5 position cuts.

Memberships and Public Agencies will be cut by 3 percent. This includes funds for the Chamber of Commerce, Healing Place, the North Carolina Symphony and United Arts. Those agencies have had a cumulative 19-percent cut during the past three fiscal years, Cooke said. Funding for the Marbles kids museum will be cut 10 percent. The budget proposal also discontinues community partnership grants. The Fiscal Year 2011 budget included $500,000 for that fund, but they were considered one-time allocations.

County Employee Benefits will see a slight increase to accommodate a performance pay raise of 2 percent. Cooke said it will be the first raise employees have had in three years. Employees will be required to contribute more to retirement plans and health insurance. In addition, retiree health benefits will be eliminated for employees hired after June 30, 2011.

The 2012-18 Capital Plan is funded at $429.3 million or $150 million for Fiscal Year 2012. It maintains the county’s AAA bond rating. The budget proposes a change in the amount of money given to the fund. The change means more than $19 million less for the fund through 2018, but it will not affect debt services.
(Read more: Wake County Will Trim Capital Funds)

Special Revenue and Enterprise Funds are separate funds, such as solid waste. The solid waste budget maintains the household disposal fee of $20 and maintains tipping fees at both the South Wake Landfill and East Wake Transfer Station.

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