Michael Bobbitt: Notes from the Peanut Gallery (Vance County BoC May 26th, 2015)

The six active members of our Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting Tuesday night to discuss a personnel matter in closed session and to finalize the 2014 – 2015 fiscal year budget. There was no formal announcement following the closed door session. There may have been an informal announcement at the conclusion of the almost four hour meeting when the interim county manager said he would no longer be attending commissioners meeting after Friday.

Budget Work Session

Chairman Taylor called the budget work session to order after the six active commissioners and three paid staff members had completed their taxpayer funded dinner. Chairman Taylor announced the intent of the evenings meeting was to offer those groups, agencies, and county departments to pitch their reasoning for restoring funding that been denied or slashed.

Thirteen presenters attended the meeting. Among the thirteen presenters, three are the heads of county departments. Others included a wide range of agencies and groups from the community college and the school district to the public health department and the public library, to the boys and girls club to the community concert association to name a few.

Each presenter was granted six (6) minutes to make their “pitch” as Chairman Taylor called it. Some presenters came prepared with handouts and spoke with facts and figures; most of the presentations where only pleadings for restoring their funding. When each presenter concluded their presentation the Chair asked the commissioners for questions. The commissioners asked one question of only five of twelve presentations. The county’s IT director’s presentation was the lone exception to garner the commissioners’ attention. Although his presentation was short on details and facts and long on the poor me factor it was the lone presentation to engage the commissioners’ collectively.

Mr. Murphy summarized the thirteen presentations after the last presenter without supporting any one of the presentation. Mr. Murphy then introduced a two page document titled Adjustments to Recommended FY 2015 – 16 General Fund Balance. The unnumbered first page explains in part the great pains Mr. Murphy has taken to reduce the amount the county will need to pay Blue Cross and Blue Shield for employee group health insurance. He classified the reduction as a Revenue Adjustment of $89,077. I wonder how the county employee’s will classify the increase in their prescription co-pays that off-set the insurance rate reduction? The amount of that increase in prescription co-pays was not in the public documents presented.

Another of Mr. Murphy’s revenue adjustments is the lower interest rate for the money borrowed to meet mandates for securing the county jail and protecting health and welfare of jail staff and ‘jail residence’. The loan modification cost the county $50,000 to negotiate an extension of payments at a lower rate; the loan amount was not reduced. Mr. Murphy is now recommending a 2% wage increase for county employees for nine months of the fiscal year. The pay increase requires an additional $172,197 to be drawn from the Fund Balance. Using the accounting gimmicks that classify lower and longer debt payments as income along with transferring more of the cost of prescription drugs onto the underpaid staff as income reduces the amount of money needed from the Fund Balance to $102,512. Mr. Murphy wrote in his document, he and “[t]he staff included $741,382 from the General Fund Balance to balance the budget. The amount is included with a strong confidence that none of will be spent during the fiscal year.”

Chairman Taylor took control of the meeting following Mr. Murphy’s rose colored view of fiscal 2015 – 16. Over the next two hours the Chair cobbled together a consensus of the Board for a June 1, approval of the budget. The two hours was needed to restore some funding for some of those thirteen groups, agencies, and county departments seeking restoration of their initial funding requests. Two big ticket agencies and the county’s IT department received partial restoration and five others groups or agencies received a stipend. One of the big ticket agencies was the Franklin, Warren, Vance Opportunity (FWV). They were requesting restoring the $16,000 cut from the budget. Commissioner Garrison said we need to help FWV because “they bailed our butt out of the fire”. What Commissioner Garrison was referring to were the five houses the Board approved to be built using Federal taxpayers’ money. The five houses sat unoccupied and were repeatedly vandalized for two years before being transferred to FWV for subsidized rental. Commissioner Garrison and Hester fained surprise when told the subsidized rental payments are insufficient to cover the maintenance cost of those five new houses located in high crime areas. Mr. Murphy, played a great shell game for a half hour before the commissioners agree to fund half the health department’s request. The health department needs $96,000 to repair the leaking roof at the Vance County facility. The roof on the Granville County facility does not leak, because as Commissioner Brummitt pointed out, “Granville County spends money to maintain their facilities unlike Vance County”. Include in the original budget proposal is $200,000 to repair the roof on the Dennis Building and the county’s administration building.

The meeting ended with an agreement to reconvene Thursday’s night to finalize all the little dollar amounts to appease some of the groups and agencies seeking taxpayer’s money for their worthwhile civil and social needs.

After the meeting concluded I asked the Chairman and three commissioners what is the purpose of the public hearing on the budget at the June 1st Board meeting since the commissioners have agreed on the budget. I was told so the public can speak about the budget. I again asked why, you have already made up your minds.

Download the Budget Adjustment details here:  Adjustments to FY 15-16 General Fund Budget0001.pdf