Craven County FY 2016-2017 Budget

CCTA Watchdog Report

Craven Count Board of Commissioners 2016 Budget Adoption

20 June 2016

The Craven County Board of Commissioners spent little time adopting the 2016 budget this morning.  They took it up immediately after the invocation, the pledge of allegiance, and approval of the “Consent Agenda.”

Proceedings started with the County Manager’s presenting the “Budget Ordinance FY 2016-2017” in a bound document that was given to each Commissioner, but was not made available to the citizens which violates the NC Open Meeting Laws.  When I rose and addressed Chairman George Liner to object, he stated that the document was made available online.  I asked one of the CCTA members present who had a laptop with him to check on it.  He could not find it online, so I again objected.  Then, Chairman Liner threatened to have me evicted from the room.   At this point, Commissioner Jones asked Jimmie Hicks, County Attorney, if there was any violation of open meeting laws in the process, and was told that there was not.

When I got home, I checked and found, “§ 143-318.9.  Public policy.  Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly. (1979, c. 655, s. 1.)”  It seems to me that citizens’ not being able to follow the proceedings is certainly a violation of the spirit of that General Statute.  How do you view it?

Oh well, both Commissioners Tyson and Jones gave citizens in attendance their copies and that ended the “who struck John” on that subject, and the meeting proceeded.

There was little discussion of the budget itself, but much commending the staff for such a good job of preparation of the budget, and condemnation of the “attack people” who had the audacity to be critical of the budget.  Each of the commissioners took a turn at blasting those good folks as part of the discussion of the motion to adopt the proposed budget as they had amended it.  They objected to newspaper articles, email reports on, and a Letter to the Editor about their budget deliberations.   They attempted to refute those accounts by making speeches on the subject.

One stated that at least a “revenue neutral” budget was a state requirement.

Commissioner Dacey read a prepared statement against the assertion that the tax rate is increasing by 15%.  Well here is the arithmetic again.  I checked with the Craven County Tax Department and was told that the current property tax rate is $0.4675 per $100 of assessed value and the proposed rate is $0.5394 per $100 of assessed value.  0.5394 minus $0.4675 divided by $0.4675 equals 15.37%.  Does the Commissioner think that by repeating his assertion over and over, he can change the math?

Additionally, Commissioner Dacey said that it’s not the job of the Board of Commissioners to prepare the county budget.  He averred that it is the County Manager’s job.  Well, that may be, but is it not the job of the Board of Commissioners to give the County Manager guidance?  After all, we elect Commissioners to represent us, but we do not have an opportunity to elect the County Manager, or have I missed something important?

Commissioners Tyson and Dacey vigorously defended their allocating additional money for schools and social programs.  Yes, we are critical of those expenditures, but in the case of school funding, it is not because we don’t want more effective education, but because we object to the school board’s allowing high administrative costs to take away from funds that would otherwise be paid to teachers and used to meet other classroom needs.  Our schools get enough money.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is the Board of Education allows it to be squandered.

Good schools are important to every community.  The availability of an education of good quality is a key to the health of a community and to the ability of its citizens to pursue happiness and prosperity.  We need to fix Craven County schools.  That is not where we differ with the Board of Commissioners.  We differ in where we think the solution lies.

Commissioner Sampson contended that the prison system was taking “most of the money.”  According to the Budget Ordinance we finally attained a copy of, the amount allocated to the sheriff is $5,994,278, and the jail gets $4,183,955.  This brings the total for the prison system to $10,178,203 which is just over 10% of the county budget.  This is hardly “most of the money.”  Just compare the $10 million for jails to the more than $22 million for social services and almost $27 million for schools, and it’s clear where most of the money goes.  Actually, “social services” is the most objectionable category of all.  It requires the county government to behave like Robin Hood, and we all know he was a thief.

Commissioner Tyson justifiably complained about the “Education” Lottery’s not living up to the requirement that some 40% of funds be used for education.  He stated that schools now receive only about 14% of those funds, said that this causes counties to have to make up the difference, and complained about unfunded mandates from Raleigh.  He is absolutely right about that.

In fact, another explanation given by the Commissioners for higher taxes is the state’s policy of “unfunded mandates.”  We certainly don’t like them either.  If the state requires that services be provided by all counties in the state, the state should pay for those services out of state tax dollars.  If this isn’t possible, the expenditure should be deferred.

In other business after the budget was adopted, it was announced the Commissioner Steve Tyson has been appointed to the Craven 100 Alliance (C1A).  The Craven 100 Alliance is an economic development group working to attract business and industry to the county.  Projects the Craven 100 Alliance has initiated include developing commercial space in Havelock, at Coastal Carolina Regional Airport, and at the Craven County Industrial Park. The group is also working on an Entrepreneurial Center, or business incubator.  Meanwhile, both Moen and BSH, two global manufacturing companies with major presence in Craven County, are expanding operations as a result of economic development efforts.

The Craven 100 Alliance has achieved some good results, but at what cost?  Our tax dollars support businesses like Moen.  We’re told it’s part of an effort by the county to bring jobs to the county.  The goal is worthy, but the way it is done is not.  How much taxpayer support is given to locally owned businesses like Captain Ratty’s, Baker’s Kitchen, Professional Auto Service, Inc., Family Tire, or any other mom and pop operation that’s been here employing people for years?  Why should our county government pick some businesses as “winners” in the tax jackpot game, and insist that the owners of other businesses pay taxes that provide part of the money to pay to the winner businesses?  How can that be fair?

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