Following a brief interruption for a Special Called meeting our commissioners resumed their collective public review of the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. On Tuesday June 18th at 3pm, the commissioners will be getting down to the hard part of the budget review, compromising.
Chairman Hester opened last night’s work session asking for discussion on the three budget add-ons. These are three requests for taxpayers’ money not included in the initial proposed budget. First of the budget add ones, was a commissioner’s request to increase their pay. Commissioner Brummitt suggested a performance based compensation plan for the commissioners. Commissioner Garrison stated he could not justify a pay increase for the commissioners. Adding that funds are stretched thin enough beside people are dissatisfied with our efforts thus far. A palpable relief swept through all except the one commissioners following Commissioner Garrison’s statement. No pay increase for the commissioners in this year’s budget.
Next up was the school administration’s request for $211,000 in security measures: armed guards at two schools, security cameras, alarms, and electronic door locks at all the schools. In an earlier work session the commissioners challenged Mr. Asycue to learn about these three options. For example if there is money for only one which one. And how firm (real) is the dollar amounts. Mr. Asycue reported that school officials wanted all three. School officials said instead of the lump sum of $211,000 they would accept one quarter this year and the other three quarters in each of the next three years. The $211,000 is a firm number. The commissioners agreed to pay the schools one quarter this year and for the next three years. Making the county the school’s bank something Chairman Hester opposed on another budget item. No one asked how the schools intended to pay the full $211,000 out of their treasury when getting only a quarter of the requested amount this year.
These work sessions you have displayed congeniality, rancor, and open hostility among the commissioners with the occasional flashes of agreement. At last Tuesday evening’s work session a contingent of supporters and leadership of the Warren County Free Health Clinic pitched their need for $50,000 of Vance County taxpayers’ money. As I understood their request prior to Duke Lifepoint’s incursion into our community the non-profit Maria Parham Hospital provided all or a majority of Warren County Free Health Clinic’s operating funds. Another benefit to the whole community of Duke Lifepoint is the elimination of such funding. This is a solid example of the distinction between for profit and non-profit hospitals and medical care. Chairman Hester stated that last week he asked the good folks of the free clinic to tell how many of this year’s patients are from Vance County. That information had not been provided as of the last night’s work session. Commissioner Brummitt voiced concern that funding something like the free clinic would open another drain on the taxpayers’ resources without a way to stop it once started. Commissioner Taylor pointed out that the administrator of the free clinic lives in Vance County. Adding that if a Vance County resident were to ask the administrator where they should seek free or very low cost health care the answer would most likely be the free clinic. After much emotional and sometimes very bitter discussion a majority of the commissioners (four by my count) agreed to fund the Warren County free clinic with $15,000 instead of their requested $50,000 so long as $5,000 could be pulled from one of the other non-profits seeking taxpayers’ money. And the free clinic answers Chairman Hester’s question.
This afternoon starting at 3pm some scared oxen will be sacrificed on a three legged alter. The three legs are reason, emotion, and politics. How many if any of the new proposed positions are cut? Which non-profit looses $5,000? What is cut to reduce the proposed budget by $250,000?
From the Peanut Gallery, I can report that six of the seven commissioners have been active participants throughout the public work sessions; the seventh will let me say they have been in attendance. Commissioner Taylor provided his colleagues an insight into the budget that I think is worth sharing. According to his work only $1,528.942 (3.6%) of the entire $42,556,413 in the proposed budget is non-required funding. In his handout he says, “… within most required departments [and] programs there is some limited flexibility … in staffing levels …”
See you at the coliseum at 3 pm today.