LAURINBURG — If the Board of Commissioners funded every budget request for every department, the county would be about $2 million in the hole.
County Manager Kevin Patterson submitted a preliminary budget of $42.8 million to the board which included the full budgets submitted by each department and continued funding needs for the county.
Based on current revenue projections of $40.8 million, if the county were attempt to fund all requests, it would create a $1,981,500 deficit.
Some of the appeals were for items that individual departments were unsure would be granted, but felt the need to ask for anyway, according to Patterson.
Commissioner Carol McCall asked Patterson to create a list of the requests so that commissioners might track ongoing needs.
“I would like to know what the departments ask you for that they’re not getting because that gives me a better idea of what the true needs are,” McCall said. “If they need it this year, need it the next year and need it the third year, hmmm. But if they need it this year, but then by the next year they don’t need it; then, they’ve made an adjustment in their organization that has taken care of that need.”
A large part of the requests come in the form of extra personnel.
Scotland County Sheriff’s Office wants to add five extra School Resource Officers at the schools it is responsible for covering: Laurel Hill Elementary, Carver, Shaw, Spring Hill, Wagram and South Scotland. If the county were to approve the move that amount to two officers at each school in the future.
The Scotland County Schools currently pays for three officers from the sheriff’s office while the county covers the cost of two. The school system has applied for a grant to cover the cost of two additional officers but does not know when they will have a response. For now, the county would have to cover the cost of the five officers unless an agreement could be worked out with the schools.
The sheriff has also requested an extra bailiff, two officers to man the pre-trial release program, and two extra deputies for the drug and gangs division.
Department of Social Services also wants to add income case maintenance workers.
The total amount to add all employees requested would fall around $1 million, excluding training.
With department budgets and instructions from the board in hand, Patterson will go back over his first submission and look at ways to bring the budget for 2018/19 down to a more palatable number which will not bankrupt the county.
Areas that the board hopes to focus on are a continued decrease in the property tax rate between one and two cents which would cut $ 211,639 or $423,277 from the amount of revenue the county has to work with.
The county would also like to continue giving cost-of-living raises to its employees to bring them closer to parity with other counties. A one to two percent cost-o- living raise would cost the county $154,742 to $309,484 more per year.
“I would like to see us do most of this before we start hiring new positions. I think we need to take care of the people we’ve got first,” said Commissioner Guy McCook.
Two groups targeted for five percent raises this year are jailers and DSS and Health Department Social Workers. The positions that have been targeted for raises are positions that earn 10 percent less in Scotland County than they would elsewhere. Social Services will recoup 40 percent of the cost to the county through revenue. The net cost to the county will be $42,000 for social workers’ raises after DSS revenues come in.
Raising wages keeps down the level of employee attrition and training costs, according to Patterson.
“The highest turnover area is your social workers because that’s your child protective unit… and that’s where administrative costs are high because they have to bring somebody in. If they’re not qualified, it can take them six months before they can actually be productive,” Patterson said.
McCook, who serves on the DSS Board, and DSS Director April Snead board explained to those present that turnover costs the county in more than just salary and administration.
Putting money into raises for social workers will save the county money in the end, according to McCook.
The cost to train a new social worker is $8 to 10,000. If an employee finds a better paying job elsewhere after they have been trained, that is a loss to the county.
“The other county doesn’t have to do the training. We’ve given them a $10,000 gift when [an employee] walks over,” Snead said.
Scotland County EMS has also requested an extra ambulance and crew to cover each shift due to increased need.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169