Council resolves to meet on joint funding policy

After two hours of presentations and discussion at yesterday’s work session, members of the Henderson City Council agreed to schedule a meeting to discuss developing a policy on programs funded jointly with Vance County.

Member Mary Emma Evans was absent from the meeting due to illness.

During the course of the meeting, the council heard presentations on library funding and services from H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library Director Jeanne Fox and Vance County Emergency Management Director Brian Short. Library Board of Trustees member Tem Blackburn also spoke to the council and encouraged members to find funding to increase the number of hours the library is open.

The library reduced its hours from 61 per week to 48 when it moved into its new facility on Breckenridge Street.

Council members were quick to laud both the library and 911 programs and the work they do, and equally anxious to indicate that they do not wish to see those services terminated. There was, however, very little said about how to grapple with the issue of how those programs are funded between the city and the county, the reason for which the work session was called in the first place.

The issue of inequity in the tax burden for city residents in jointly funded programs has been discussed for many years and continues to be a cause c&#233l&#232bre for former council member Bobby Gupton.

Member Garry Daeke stated that he thinks funding for the library should be a county taxpayer function on an equitable basis.

Council member Lonnie Davis expressed reluctance to change the funding for the library because the city initiated the idea of a new library without involving the county.

Member Mike Insoce made reference to a referendum held in 1951 regarding library funding. He claimed that it mandated that a tax levy of three cents per $100 in valuation be given to the library.

Daeke later disputed the accuracy of Inscoe’s reading, claiming that City Attorney John Zollicoffer had advised him that it was not a mandatory contribution and, in fact, called for a levy of up to three cents per $100 in valuation.

Inscoe went on to say that if the city were to stop funding joint programs entirely, and if the county assumed the city’s obligations, excluding debt service, that the county would be forced to raise taxes by 5.9 cents per $100 of valuation.

He expressed doubt that the county would be willing to commit to such an action.

The Ward 2 at-large member said that any changes in funding would need to be phased in over an extended period of time.

After Short’s presentation on the 911 system, Inscoe asked rhetorically how the county would react if the city said it would no longer fund 911. He wondered if the county is mandated to provide 911 services, and if not, if the county would tell the city that it has to provide its own dispatching?

Inscoe told members that the council has to decide what it’s going to do and what the consequences may be if it does it. He said he was willing to sit down with the county and talk.

Rainey noted that county commissioners represent the city as well. He also pointed out that there is a county commission election upcoming in November.

Members agreed to schedule a meeting in which courses of action regarding jointly funded programs will be discussed. That meeting will be set by Assistant City Manager Frank Frazier and Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary. No specific time frame in which to hold the meeting was discussed; however, member Sara Coffey stressed that it should come before budget deliberations begin.