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Article 19

By Kristen Johnson
Staff Writer

LEXINGTON — When his turn to speak came, it was Davidson County Commissioner Sam Watford who summed up the board’s sentiment.

“Nope. There are no sacred cows here,” he said, answering a question fellow commissioner Billy Joe Kepley posed to the group. “Anything ya’ll want to cut, lets go. I’m with you. Schools, public safety — nothing is sacred as far as cutting this budget down.”

During the hour-long workshop, commissioners made their message perfectly clear to county manager Robert Hyatt and budget officer Zeb Hanner — find a way to cut $1.3 million out of Hyatt’s proposed budget and avoid a tax increase.

Commissioner Cindy Akins, re-elected last November, was the only commissioner to come to the table with a set of specific cuts.

Akins — who pledged during the campaign season to never vote for a tax increase — said she would cut one van and nine of 19 cars from the capital outlay budget for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.

The $30,000 van and nine cars — $22,000 each — would total $228,000. Akins also proposed cutting three month’s worth of salary increases, totaling $200,000 and using $900,000 of general fund balance.

Those cuts would total $1.32 million — roughly the same amount of additional revenue the 1.5-cent property tax increase would bring in.

“That’s the way to do it,” she said.

The sheriff’s office budget was a topic of discussion during the workshop.

Kepley related an incident during which he’d been stopped by nine deputies for a routine traffic stop.

“I don’t know the specifics,” he said. “But the nine deputies were joking and horsing around a bit. Maybe it would have taken fewer deputies to handle the traffic stop.

“If there was indeed a 62-percent decrease in this county’s crime, it seems to me we could make [sheriff Gerald K. Hege’s] budget reflect that.”

Commissioner Max Walser — newly elected to the board last November — agreed.

“I want either Mr. Hege himself or a higher-ranking officer from his department to come before us and explain this,” he said. “It’s his responsibility to make a budget, and it’s mine to understand that budget.”

Walser also asked Hanner to supply information about the effect reducing the county’s general fund balance from $17 to $15 million would have on the county’s credit rating.

The North Carolina Local Government Commission requires 8 percent as a “bare minimum” fund balance.

Currently, Hanner said he estimates an “about-average” 17-percent reserve — or two months operating capital — at the start of the next budget year.

“We need to be careful about where we cut,” said Walser, a former county superintendent of schools. “I’m admittedly biased toward education and economic development.

“As far as schools go, this county has supported bricks and mortar in fine fashion — but operational costs and per-pupil expenditures are in the bottom quartile.”

Commissioner Don Truell, also newly elected to the board last November, said he thought “some privatization must take place,” and added he is looking at the parking deck and extra employees.

“Every year, there comes a bad decision time when you’re looking at a budget,” said commissioner Priscilla Hege. “I’d like to see the county hold the line again this year.”

Hege said the county’s school programs “are a concern,” and added it “is hard to look at backing down on that.”

“You might as well come back with some revisions and cuts, because we’re not going to have a tax increase,” Walser told Hanner and Hyatt.

But board chairman Fred Sink was not so sure.

“You can’t say you support economic development and building schools and a full box site schedule and then turn around and say you don’t want to support a tax increase,” he told board members. “We may have to raise taxes soon.”

Want to go?
The Davidson County Board of Commissioners has scheduled a second budget workshop Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The workshop will precede the board’s regular monthly meeting, scheduled to begin that night at 7 p.m. Commissioners will receive public comment on the budget during the regular meeting. The workshop and regular meeting will be held in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room on the fourth floor of the Davidson County Governmental Center. For more information and an agenda, contact County Manager Robert Hyatt at 242-2202.

Staff writer Kristen Johnson can be reached at 472-9500, ext. 232, or at johnson@tvilletimes.com.

Published Saturday, June 7, 2003

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