Dare faces $4.1 million budget gap

By on April 19, 2010

Faced with a $4.1 million budget gap, Dare County commissioners tip-toed around the question of a tax increase Monday, then decided to regroup next week.

County Manager Bobby Outten had asked the Board of Commissioners for guidance after reporting that declining revenues and rising expenses for the coming fiscal year meant they would have to make some tough decisions to balance the budget.

But the board was not yet ready to commit to raising taxes, cutting expenses or a combination of the two. So they scheduled another workshop for next week. The county has until June 30 to come up with a balanced budget for the fiscal year 2010-2011.

The economy was to blame for the bulk of the revenue shortage. Property tax collections are down because of foreclosures, Outten said. Sales tax revenue is flat, he said, and interest income on the county’s money is off by 50 percent.

All told, the county can expect to collect almost $2.9 million less in the coming fiscal year than the $97.6 million it expects by the time the current fiscal year ends June 30.

When all of the outlays required by law as well as increases requested by county departments and outside non-profits are added up, Outten said, total expenses come to $1,223,202 more than the current budget.

“That’s the spread we’re trying to cover,” Outten said of the two figures. The estimates assume, he said, that the county Board of Education won’t ask for more money than it received this year and the state doesn’t come up with any fiscal surprises.

Outten said the county cannot afford to put off dealing with its budget problems because 2012 is expected to be worse. The state will have no more federal stimulus money and a payment of $1.1 million for the federally mandated emergency communications system comes due.

The poor economy was reflected in some of the increases requested by non-profit groups, which are struggling with flat donations and rising needs. The Community Care Clinic, for example, wants almost triple what it received in the current budget, going from $75,000 to $200,000.

Even if he were to reject all of the requested increases, the county would still come up $3.1 million short, Outten said, because of the declining revenues and expenses that are not optional, such as debt payments and putting more money into the retirement system.

Outten presented some big-ticket expenses that are considered discretionary and cuttable, although he did not press for doing so. Two examples were the EMS helicopter, which costs $962,000 a year to operate, and one ambulance per shift, which would save $586,000.

Other possibilities, Outten said, would be to eliminate eight school nursing positions, an expense of $474,000, and six school resource officer jobs, which cost $387,000 a year.

“They aren’t a recommendation that you do all these things . . . they are things you can do,” Outten said.

Commissioner Allen Burrus zeroed in on the idea of emergency rescue cuts as ill-advised, especially on remote Hatteras Island, which he represents.

Commissioner Virginia Tillett wondered why county employees who help in the schools were highlighted as possibilities. Outten said he and County Finance Director David Clawson had also looked at 41 county positions and considered the consequences of cutting them as well. His presentation included cutting 16 positions as a possibility, for a savings of $656,000.

Chairman Warren Judge suggested that Outten return with the “darkest scenario,” a proposed budget that made up the $4.1 million by cutting expenses and not raising the property tax. But Commissioner Mike Johnson warned that could mean the loss of dozens of jobs at a time when unemployment is at near-record levels.

Commissioner Jack Shea said he wanted time to digest the numbers, but “I, for one, would not want to raise taxes.” Commissioner Richard Johnson said he wasn’t ready to reveal his position on the tax question.

The county property tax would have to be raised 2.35 cents for every $100 of valuation to cover the shortfall without making cuts. Judge said, however, that there would be an expectation that the county would also cut costs if it asked taxpayers for more money.

With the issue left hanging, the board scheduled a second session for next Tuesday at 2 p.m.

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Comments

Felecia Maccarini

August 16, 2011 11:06 pm

keep the good job!

Taylor

February 10, 2011 3:56 pm

The worse part is that next year’s budget gap will be even worse once all the Obama Stimulus money has finally been flushed down the toilet. There is a whole lot of waste in this County without touching the needed items. They always mention those first to “scare” the public to get them on board for a tax increase. Spending money is much easier than managing money. The citizens of Dare County are on a budget maybe it is time that the County went on one!

ekim

June 5, 2010 11:03 am

their using emts an such as a scare tactic ill bet you could take some local businemen an we could find all kinds of places to make BIG cuts!

Don Smith

May 19, 2010 2:33 pm

As President Ronald Reagan stated, Government is the problem, end of quote. Frank is right. It is the voters who continue to vote these tax-and-waste politicians back in office. Wake up Dare County.
Consider they are paying the town manager $250,000 a year and ask yourself who do you know in the private sector in Dare County that makes this kind of money with a benefit package to go along????

frank

May 4, 2010 9:31 pm

well, fellow citizens of Dare, you shouldn’t be surprised. Things out here in the economy are tough indeed. But when the good people of Dare have traditionally and habitually voted for tax and spend democrats and look to the state, county, federal or town governments for jobs instead of encouraging private, free enterprise businesses, and/or learning to own/operate their own enterprises, they find themselves in such a position of looking to the source of the problem for solutions to the problem created by the problem, government. Change is indeed needed, a regime change in Dare County!!

Joe Public

May 2, 2010 9:41 am

Now is a time for top-down leadership. How will furlough days effect the salaried folks? Will the county Manager be taking 5 unpaid furlough days as well as other salaried department heads and staff? If this equates to 1.92% pay decrease as stated by the county manager will the commissioners be taking a 1.92% pay reduction? I for one feel it is time for the county leadership to lead by example and not directive. This county can cut a lot of excess out of the budget and should before going after the very life blood of the safety of our residents and quests, our public safety folks in Police and EMS.

Dewey

April 28, 2010 10:36 am

Several years ago EMS was in a very fragile state. Their pay was low; their ability to recruit and retain good quality employees was dismal. EMS was seventeen employees short staffed, unable to keep their desired coverage intact. One day I heard on the scanner an ambulance responding from the Oregon Inlet Bridge to The Village of Duck for a patient not breathing. Then County Manager Terry Wheeler instituted time and a half pay for overtime as required by federal statue. EMS ranks swelled to nearly desire staffing levels. Recruitment and retention problems disappeared and when my friends in EMS say someone is leaving it is for personal reasons, not that they cannot longer afford to live and work here. The Comparing Dare County’s overtime pay to Curritucks in one blog I recently read is deceptive because you are not also comparing their ambulance numbers and staffing, the geographical area they cover or the cost of living in Currituck versus Dare. Do we really want to cut essential personal’s pay and benefits? Do we want these folks to leave and be short staffed again? While I realize we need to balance the budget, I as a home owner have no problem paying more taxes to support the essential services such as police, fire and EMS. Cut the dog parks and dance troops, community building and meeting halls, cut the 12K from the budget listed as “dinner theater” at the various community centers and all the fluff. If you going to cut the essential personnel’s pay and benefits we are going to once again be in a position here in Dare county where we are waiting for an ambulance, fire truck etc. I have many friends who work in all the various Public Safety agencies in the county and many have said they will have no choice but seriously look at leaving. Not that they want to, but that they just cannot afford to live here making less. If our board of commissioners wants to do that I sure hope they offer some free first aid, CPR and fire fighting classes for the public, because we are going to need to know how to fend for ourselves.

fyi

April 27, 2010 12:23 am

Most employers have been forced to cut employees by far more than the 5% that the commissioners are considering. Why shouldn’t government have to do the same? They already pay more in wages and benefits. If we cut the pay and benefits to the equivalent of the private sector, maybe the situation would not be so dire.

Ronnie

April 25, 2010 8:47 pm

I can’t imagine any of these Commissioners could look any of their neighbors in the eye if they use any tax increase to cater to real estate greed, rather than help their neighbors get through these rough times.

I put myself in their shoes, and just could not face my family or kids or friends or people at work if I did that.

Colleen

April 24, 2010 7:23 pm

I guess we will see how leaders make tough decisions?

OBXer

April 24, 2010 7:20 pm

I’m not a rocket scientist but this doesn’t make sense (cents!) We’re 4.1 million dollars in the red, and we’ll cut EMS, Medflights, Teaching Staff and School Nurses but we’ll spend 1.1 million dollars for a place for people to walk their dogs? Hey, I have a dog, and she goes out the back door to do her business for free. Plus we have 28 million dollars floating around earmarked for sand? Like I said, I’m not a rocket scientist, but in the last 10 years alone, I’ve seen tons of sand be washed and blown away. Spending 28 million dollars on sand is like spitting into the wind. I really feed duped by my commissioners. They are making me feel very stupid by wasting my hard earned money! I wish the County Commissioners would get their act together!

charlie

April 23, 2010 4:51 pm

Colleen has a VERY valid point. Spilt milk is spilt milk. And, here is the BIG and….. Will the commissioners learn from this.
Another sobering point is that, if they choose to cut positions, they are just adding people to the unemployment line. School nurses and EMT’s are caring people. They watch over us and our children. I’ll take the tax increase to save them and their families from becoming another statistic.
ps: The new meeting room is PLUSH.

Joe

April 22, 2010 10:28 pm

1.1 Milion for a mandated radio system? It would seem that it is being mandated by a state or federal agency, then they can pay for it, or use some of the millions in the Dare County 911 fund. If you research it, it seemes like it would be able to be used for this purpose. Let’s keep our needed resources such as public safety and cut the fat, new buildings, parks, bathrooms for the “Manns Harbor Marina,” PLEASE.

Colleen

April 22, 2010 8:53 pm

I think we all agree that fiscal decisions should have been made 3 years ago. However, they weren’t. Everyone was excited about new schools. In fact people moved, in the height of a real estate boom, so that their children could go to a “better school.” I think everyone enjoyed what the tourists dollars were bringing us. I don’t remember reading a ton of emails and posts saying, “please don’t build another ball field, don’t increase the Town Manager’s salary (retired), let’s be fiscally responsible and save for a rainy day, etc. So, we are faced with a problem and we can’t tear down the buildings and go back to what we had. Who has a realistic solution to offer based on the current situation? I’m willing to listen.

David

April 22, 2010 8:16 am

It never ceases to amaze me what the leaderhip of Dare County will come up with next. If I or a family member needs an ambulance and cannot get one right away because we lost one to budget cuts, the County collectively and leaders individually will pay out far more than 4.1 million dollars when I am finished in the court system! Once again it is proven that lives are not worth as much as property, and the tourist traffic is far more valuable than individual taxpayer rights.

But, at least the dogs will have a park in which to poop !

ed eichinger

April 22, 2010 7:01 am

Always, always ask “who is really getting the funds.” You know, I’ve watch teachers get laid off and workers’ hours getting cut and yet the demand for more funds goes up. I have to manage my bank balance to get what I need/want. I cannot go out and buy anything I want or spend without consequences. It’s like these government folk think there is a big money bag they can keep dipping into it without any thought. I’d ask for an accurate accounting. Let’s recall some credit card accounts and find out where the money really is; every penny.

charlie

April 22, 2010 5:42 am

If your house is valued at $350,000 a 2.35 cent per 100 tax increase appears to be around a buck and a half a week. I can deal with that.
What I have a hard time dealing with is all the money that had to go to debt service for projects taken on during prosperous times without a thought back then that the golden goose might stop laying eggs. More fiscal restraint then would have meant less pain now.

William Somerset

April 21, 2010 9:49 pm

I hope they are all happy sitting in their new meeting room. If I remember correctly they said they needed a new room b/c that old room filled up “sometimes.” My initial thought before they even built the new building was why not have the meetings at one of the new school gymnasiums if they are worried about space? Do the commisioners really need a plush chair to sit in, or would a fold up chair and table suffice?

KHer

April 21, 2010 8:01 pm

Echoing Paul here. If there’s fat to cut it isn’t in EMS or the helicopter. Those cuts would equate to lives lost. I for one don’t want to hear a 911 dispatcher tell me that the next available ambulance will arrive between 12 and 4 when I need it at 11.

If the tax deficit is due to a reduction in building then reduce county staff that pertains to construction, ie. inspectors, planning, etc.

I don’t want to pay higher taxes either. But sometimes you have to bite the bullet.

Paul Apostolos

April 21, 2010 10:48 am

School nurses, EMTs/Paramedics, school resource officers, and especially Dare MedFlight are not bloated extras that can be axed without severe consequences. I agree with Mr. Gibbs’ comment to “cut the fat,” however these possible cuts aren’t about extravagant extras. This proposal (or suggestion) would be slicing into the arteries and essential muscles from resources that are already spread thin…not fat.

On busy summer days, EMS sometimes has one ambulance sitting at Whalebone covering the entire county. A critical patient in Buxton is 130 miles from the nearest Level I trauma center. EMS and MedFlight are Hatteras Island’s lifeline. Cut the dog parks, the senior centers, the county manager’s salary, and the BS. Not emergency services.

Local

April 21, 2010 7:58 am

I feel humiliated by this. Shunned. They consider cutting things in my kids’ schools while $22 million sits in a “holy” account earmarked for tourist sand and a plan that is so likely to wash away.

It’s like they’re siding with the mainlanders, and saying f-you to those of us who live here.

I know there must be a way to channel some of that money to the people who live here, and work here, and support the tourist economy, and vote, and are the Commissioner’s neighbors.

How could those guys even show their faces on their street again? I’m glad they don’t live next to me, I’d have a lot to say.

Garry Gibbs

April 21, 2010 6:30 am

This is where real leadership starts to shine. Do we cut the bloated gov. jobs, or add a greater burden on the people to cover their liberal spending-entitlements. Should a few suffer for the greater cause, yes, cut the fat, trim the jobs, balance the budget, thats what you are paid to do. If you can’t take the heat…

JM

April 20, 2010 7:52 pm

maybe they shouldn’t build a dog park.

Ray

April 20, 2010 5:11 pm

Absolutely, GB..dead on right!

Fish

April 20, 2010 1:44 pm

GB is dead right.

GB

April 20, 2010 10:04 am

The commissioners want to raise the occupancy tax for “beach nourishment” and propose to allocate $28 million for a plan described as “a pig in a poke” by at least one commissioner.

One week later there is a $4.1 million budget gap. Commissioners are discussing cuts to existing services and discussing raising property taxes, too (see above).

This is a question of resource allocation, and the issues here are very much linked to the beach nourishment issue.

I am not for tax increases and do not want an increase in the occupancy tax…but if the occupancy tax is going to be increased, the revenue should go to Dare County and the towns…and not be tied by state statute to one specific cause…especially one that will not work as currently proposed.

This does not have to be a shell game—If you are going to raise the occupancy tax… have the money go to help prevent a property tax increase rather than fund a very questionable quest to dredge sand.

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