LAURINBURG — Scotland County is one step closer to having a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
On Wednesday, the Board of Commissioners met with Finance Officer Beth Hobbs, County Manager Kevin Patterson, and department heads to go over the most recent draft of the budget.
The 2018-19 balanced budget comes in at $41.5 million, a slight increase over the $40.2 million for last year. The exact number for the year is $41,583,561.
“Most of our departments are getting what they got at the beginning of the year or slightly less,” Patterson told the board. “For some of these departments there are no operational changes in there, so your budget is going to be exactly the same.”
The board struggled to find ways to keep its promise to continue to reduce the property tax rate and give much needed raises to its employees.
Patterson was able to balance the budget accounting for another one cent reduction in the tax rate bringing the number to $1 per 100 valuation. The current rate is $1.01. Some discussion was made of trying to reduce the rate by two cents, but in the end, it was decided to reduce the rate by one cent in order to hedge against having to raise the rate next year should property tax values fall too greatly during the upcoming tax revaluation.
“I’ve thought about that some, and last time we went through revaluation, if I remember correctly, we did a rate decrease the year before, and we were not able to sustain that because of the changes that came as a result of revaluation,” said Commissioner Guy McCook. “I would love for us to do two cents, but whatever we do I want it to be sustainable. I don’t want to lose it next year or the year after.”
The rest of the board agreed with McCook.
The budget includes a one percent cost of living raise for county employees with certain employees seeing a five percent raise in an attempt to bring those positions to parity with the average pay for those jobs. Social workers at the Department of Social Services and certified jailers will see the five percent increase.
“We started looking at our highest underpaid departments that are 10 percent or more below our benchmark counties. Jailers were one of them. Last year, we did law enforcement officers, so this year we’re doing an increase for our jailers,” Patterson said. “Our social workers are another area, but not everybody at DSS. We’re looking at people who are social workers, not income case workers, that’s about 40 of the 95 members of at DSS.”
Patterson also included in the budget the funds to add an extra ambulance crew and ambulance to each shift. This will give the county a total of three ambulances on call to answer emergencies. The cost to fund those salaries is just under $400,000. The crews and ambulances are expected to be in place in January 2019.
The budget also included money to remount another ambulance, meaning the existing box – or patient area – will be mounted on a new chassis. The cost to remount two ambulances last year was $91,000 each saving the county significantly over the cost of a new ambulance.
Several departments that requested funding for new positions will not receive the extra money to add jobs including placing extra school resource officers at each school in the county.
After school funding, the four largest expenditures for the county are the Emergency Services at $2.4 million; Scotland County Sheriff’s Office at $3.2 million; the Health Department at $3 million and Department of Social Services at $7.1 million. However, some funding for the later two is offset by federal dollars and fees for services at the Health Department.
Those departments are also burdened by the fact that Scotland County is a rural and economically challenged region.
“You have to realize that, having served on the DSS Board I’ve come to realize it, we’ve got a lot of people in our community that are struggling. We’ve got a lot of people that are under employed where they used to be better off,” McCook said. “There are people getting help from Social Services now that haven’t been before. The number of cases that we’re managing on the financial side has increased significantly over the last five, six or seven years.”
The health department is also seeing larger numbers of people predominantly children and senior citizens. The department serves approximately 5,600 residents regularly.
The board set a public hearing on the proposed for its regular meeting on June 4 with the option to vote on it that night or hold a special meeting to vote on June 11 if need be.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169