County not budging on city joint funding requests

Before a discussion of each Henderson City Council joint funding request, Vance County Board of Commissioners Chair Danny Wright called requests for the county to take over 100% of funding programs in two years “unrealistic”.

Noting that the county picking up 100% of funding of joint programs would entail a tax increase at the outset of yesterday’s commission work session, Wright stated firmly that he does not intend to raise taxes on anyone.

His remarks reflected the general tone of the discussion that followed.

The funding of the H. Leslie Perry Library was the first item on the slate. The city had requested that the county take over funding over the next two years.

Member Dan Brummitt noted that the current 65% county 35% city funding arrangement was arrived at “by proxy”. According to Brummitt, in a previous budget the city chose to fund less than 50% of the library, leaving the county to fund the difference. The next year the county assumed 65% of the cost of the library, and not by unanimous consent.

Brummitt said that the library should be more involved in seeking its own funding. He cited the library in Cumberland County, North Carolina that derives 65% of its funding from outside its city and county.

During his remarks, he said that the county should resume funding the library at 50%.

Commissioner Deborah Brown said that she agreed with Brummitt, noting that counties are not required to fund libraries by law. She said that the county did not ask for “that project” and had no input in it.

Brown was most likely referring the the Embassy Foundation project spearheaded by local businessman Sam Watkins that resulted in the construction of a new and controversial facility on Breckenridge Street in downtown Henderson.

Brown claimed that she has received calls from constituents who say that they do not get to use the library, yet have to support it with tax dollars. She said they would rather see tax dollars go towards county-wide services like volunteer fire departments, litter programs, or law enforcement.

She went on to say that if the county was going “to spend that kind of money”, there should be satellite branches in the northern and southern parts of Vance County.

Brown represents the Townsville area in the northern part of Vance County.

Commissioner Terry Garrison said he would support maintaining county funding of the library at 65%, but would support 50% funding if that were the will of the majority.

Danny Wright stated that he would support increasing library funding to 70%, but also said that he thinks the library is a city function.

As for the city’s request that the county fund 100% of the Board of Elections with the city paying 100% of the cost of city elections, Brummitt argued that the current arrangement of the city paying 22% of operating costs along with 100% of the cost of city elections is favorable to the city. He claimed that Henderson could not afford the administration nor the technology to do its own elections.

The original percentage was based on the ratio of registered voters in the city versus the county in 1973. Since then, the ratio has changed to 17.4% of registered voters in the city, with the balance in the county. The board agreed that it could lower the city’s cost to reflect that change.

As for the Recreation Department, the city asked for 100% county funding in two years. Brummitt said that of the $1.5 million operating budget, half is debt service. He noted of the $125,000 the Recreation Department spends on officials, it takes in $48,000 in fees, for a net expenditure of $75,000.

He called the expense a valuable service to our youth for $25 a head, less than court costs or other negatives.

Brummitt also noted that of the 230 acres in parks that the department maintains, 200 of the acres are city parks “that county residents as a whole don’t derive benefit from”.

He said he believes the city is “getting a good deal when they look at it”.

Brummitt criticized the Rec Department for not seeking additional revenues such as leasing fields for regional tournaments or soliciting advertising.

Brown said that the county should have “some input” for the 45% of the budget it contributes. Danny Wright noted that there is a Recreation Commission to which the city and the county appoint members, but Brown rejoined that the county does not supervise employees, nor is it responsible for how the facility is maintained. She said that she would like to see a clause in the contract that calls for county review and input into recreation exercised.

Before the discussion moved on, Brummitt noted that the city bills the Recreation Department for water at the outside rate of 2.5 times more than the in-city rate.

He went on to say that the issues being discussed are not really funding issues, but rather a result of the city being in a “rut” because of the economy.

There was little discussion of 911 Emergency. Commissioners noted that 53% of the calls are city-related, and called the 50-50 funding formula fair.

The discussion of the Tax Office was equally brief. County Manager Jerry Ayscue noted that a major city request was to begin foreclosures at two years’ delinquency, a policy that the board has since adopted.

As for a city request that Alcohol Board of Control funds be split evenly by the city and county, Danny Wright noted that the general fund revenue generated by ABC money would have to be made up with ad valorum taxes. He went on to say that he was not willing to do that.

It was said by others that the state is taking additional ABC revenues this year, and that the revenue structure may change as the state gets more involved with the issue.

Members also cited the ten-year debt that the ABC is currently carrying on its new facility as a reason not to change the funding ratio.

Brummitt dismissed the argument that the city should have a greater share of ABC funds because the liquor store is located in Henderson, and therefore uses Henderson police services, by stating that the new facility has had only five police calls.

The county plans to discuss joint funding when it meets with Henderson officials in an Intergovernmental Committee meeting on Thursday of this week.