This meeting consisted of three parts, the regularly scheduled Board meeting, a joint meeting at which the Board of Commissioners were joined by the Craven County Board of Education, and a meeting with the four legislators who represent portions of Craven County in the NC General Assembly.
Let’s start with the regularly scheduled Board meeting. For anyone who agrees with the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association’s mission statement (which advocates minimum government and maximum freedom), there are several objectionable expansions of government evident. In a nutshell, there is an expansion of reach by the Craven County Health Department (now a Federally Qualified Health Care Facility which, like a Certificate of Need, cuts down on competition from the private sector). Commissioner Dacey is plugging for government provided internet access for all students. There is a federal grant for vehicle purchases by CARTS. There’s also another grant for a needless study of public service costs versus revenues and expenditures on a land use basis. There’s a huge increase in the cost of solid waste hauling at the “convenience centers.” Finally, there are continued sales of real estate to private parties at bargain prices. Interestingly, New Bern has stopped the practice and is now requiring a bid of at least one-fourth of the assessed value of the property.
There was also a presentation on preventing child abuse and some discussion of Trillium Health Resources. Commissioner Dacey serves on Trillium Health Resources’ Board. I consider it a conflict of interest for a county commissioner to serve on the board of an organization which receives funding from or through the county. It is common practice among the various groups and agencies to have county commissioners as board members to seek government blessings and funding. It just feels like one of those “fox in the hen house” situations. As an aside, Trillium covers a 24-county area in eastern North Carolina and received a $902,502 grant as part of the $18,392,688 “awarded” North Carolina from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development! I HATE THE WORD “GRANT!”
A presentation of proposed new FEMA flood plain maps was also received by the Board. These maps will be open for public comment on June 30th, 2016. Some structures will be removed from the flood zone and some will be included that haven’t been before. The bad news is that about 1,600 will be included that haven’t been before, and about 500 will be removed from the flood zone.
As an interesting tongue-in-cheek “conspiracy theory” aside…
There is one structure in Raynor’s and my neighborhood and one structure in Kim and Glenn’s neighborhood added to the flood plain. If it turns out that many of our active folks’ homes have been added…
For all you animal lovers, there was a presentation on the plans for renovation of the animal shelter. It is to have air conditioning and more sanitary facilities added for the animals.
If you would like more details on this regular meeting of the CCBOC, you can continue reading about it at the end of this article. I do appreciate the “openness” of the meetings and how easy it is now to gather information about them. This was not true until the last few years.
Now, about the joint meeting between the Craven Board of Commissioners and the Craven Board of Education. Basically, it was a presentation by the school board finance officer, Denise Altman, with occasional input from the school board members and questions and comments from the commissioners. Again, in a nutshell, the presentation was an explanation of why the shortfall in funding for the year. Despite rumors to the contrary, the report shows that state funding has gradually increased for Craven County schools over the past five years. It has gone up from $73,962,621 in 2012 to an expected $76,238,025 for this school year.
Two big problems emerged from the presentation.
The first was the statement, “The dollar amount for classroom teachers is considerably larger due to pay raises and benefit increases.” Wow! That is not what we have been hearing. The report shows that the cost of providing retirement and health benefits has escalated. These costs have gone up over 15% since 2009. This is a good thing for teachers, but tough on the budget.
Our state government has the power to solve this problem without negatively impacting teachers. It can open insurance providers to more competition, and it can change pension plans to defined contribution plans with an element of participants’ choice in their investments. The investments within the plan might go up or down based on the participant’s choices and therefore increase or decrease retirement benefits.
The second large problem is that the Federal revenues have decreased from $13,548,895 in school year 2010-2011 to $7,863,000 for the current 2015-2016 school year. One reason stated is the loss of some Impact Aid (funding support to help educate military and federal employees’ children) as that part of the student population has declined.
There are 175 Craven County students attending charter schools, and the Craven County Board of Education views the money they must send to charters as a result in a negative light.
They also pointed out that the Exceptional Children (children with special needs) population has increased by 155 students since 2012. We now have 1,836 exceptional children in Craven County schools. Since federal and state funds are capped at 12.5% of overall student population, no growth will be funded from those sources beyond the cap. Often contract services are needed to meet the needs of this part of the school population because people with the needed skills will not work for the wages staff providers are paid.
There was no funding request made of the Board of Commissioners at this meeting, but there has since been a request conveyed to the county manager for support for a $1.5 million dollar appropriation to the school board.
The final portion of this marathon meeting was the meeting with Senator Norman Sanderson (NC Senate District 2), Representative Michael Speciale (NC House District 3), Representative John Bell (NC House District 10 and Majority Party Whip), and Representative George Graham (NC House District 12).
Senator Sanders led off with a statement that a lot had been accomplished in the last legislative session to reduce business and personal taxes and the business regulatory environment resulting in lower unemployment and lower state debt.
Senator Sanderson noted that the new administration is more prone to employ “user taxes” than income taxation. He said that some of that legislation had some “unintended consequences.” For instance, the term “retail business” had not been well defined and that put some businesses at a disadvantage. He expects some adjustments to be made in the General Assembly’s “short session.”
Senator Sanderson also stated that the short session is mostly devoted to the budget and to get something passed in short session you would have to be able to drum up a great deal of support for it. He pointed out that many bills with budget impact were still alive even if they had not passed in the last long session. Norman said that they were redoing the system for allocation of funds to counties to get away from the present “Tier System.” I have to confess I have no knowledge of that issue, but I will look into it.
Norman said the Certificate of Need provisions of the health system giving unfair advantage to established medical facilities over individual physicians and physicians’ groups was still a hot button issue and may be considered in the upcoming short session. GREAT NEWS!
Norman also said that the Common Core and especially testing aspects of it might be looked at in this short session. MORE GREAT NEWS!
Finally, Norm mentioned that if the numbers look good in April, the General Assembly may raise the amount of non-taxable income in a continuation of moving away from income taxes.
Representative Michael Speciale said that Senator Sanderson had pretty well covered the situation. He said, “We want to do the budget and get out.” However, he did make a pitch for the use of local bills. He said, “Local legislation is the only legislation we can get done.” He mentioned “trying to turn school calendars over to local communities.” He asked for “your thoughts and ideas” about local bills.
As to the issue of whether the Governor will ask for a road bond in the fall, he replied, “I don’t know what the Governor will do.” He went on to say, “We’ll have an extra $1 billion because of changes the General Assembly has already made. That will be available for roads and bridges without a bond.” WOW! THE GOOD NEWS KEEPS COMING!
Michael also stated that the outflow of funding intended for highways and bridges needs to stop.
Representative John Bell said that meetings like this one are going on all over eastern North Carolina and said that the citizens are waking up to the need for mutual support. He mentioned that “urban vs. rural” is the great divide in Raleigh, and said that the rural areas of NC need to stick together.
Representative Bell pointed out that a very large percentage of the state budget is now going out to “benefits.” The state budget is spent 57% for education and about 20% for the Department of Social Services. A whopping 75 to 81 percent! We are now number 11 among states in terms of percentage of budget spent on education. That’s a good thing if we use it to become “educationally independent” of the federal government. However, the 20% for the Department of Social Services makes me ask, “Have we have already become a socialist state?”
Representative George Graham also emphasized that he, too, is in favor of more local control of schools. He includes community colleges in this and even university sites in the University of North Carolina University System. He also wants to work on deepening ports in Morehead City and Wilmington.
Representative Graham is also working with Representative Bell on getting the Pedro Marine medial evacuation team back in eastern North Carolina to support civilian medical emergency evacuation.
It’s my pleasure to point out that all four talked about doing things that are a proper function of government. I’m grateful for that.
I hope you have gained some insight from my report. It is not supposed to be balanced. Its intent is to reflect how well our government is supporting CCTA’s mission statement.
Detail on budget adjustments.
I want to fill in some of the detail on what the budget amendments were all about. Are you happy with your tax dollars going for the purpose stated in this request? Here it is:
Add’I State funds awarded to CCHO to provide training opportunities for staff & to develop and promote lasting strategies to help people make healthier lifestyle choices in order to prevent chronic diseases. Funds will be used to send a health educator and a dietician to the A-7 Diabetes Educator Boot Camp ($400 each) held April 25-29, 2016 in Greenville, NC. In addition, they will both attend the Freedom From Smoking Facilitator Training ($350 each) held on May 18th, 2016 in Wake Forest NC – includes 1 night hotel. Remaining funds will be used to purchase brochures, brochure racks, exercise items, pocket folders and copy paper.
Or this one:
Justification or Explanation of Change: CCHD received a Medicaid EHR Incentive Payment (Meaningful Use) in the amount of $21,250. Funds will be used to pay for Medicare application ($554), H!PAA Security Risk Training package ($3,750), Secure Messaging through CureMD ($4,200), (PQRS} Physician Quality Reporting System-required-reports information on the quality of care to patients ($800), Custom UDS reports for FQHC ($3,000). an add’I billing provider ($3.000), a handicapped scale ($1,863) and an ambulatory blood pressure monitoring device ($2,249). Remaining funds ($1,834) will go towards purchase of chairs in newly renovated waiting room clinic.
Another strange thing that happened in this meeting concerned the presentation by staff on solid waste-convenience centers hauling agreement. Here is the way it was presented to the Board:
SINGLE PRIME BID TABULATION
|Contractor||Insurance||Bid Bond||Bid Form #l||Bid Form
|Bid Form #7|
|Integrated Container Corporation||$165.00|
Craven County Solid Waste Department
- Russell Cotton, Director 3
I, S. Russell Cotton, hereby certify this to be a true and accurate tabulation of bids
Received for the above named project.
With that he asked the Board to approve letting the contract go with Republic Services, the current contractor.
Now I guess that Republic Services gave the lowest bid per haul. BUT WHAT WAS THE ENTIRE COST PER YEAR OF THE CONTRACT?
One of the commissioners asked if that was the same as last time. The answer was a astounding “NO. It is $75,000 more.” Wow! Did he try to slide on by on the commissioners? Well, no matter. They approved it anyway.
Well, it’s open government, but it sure reveals a lot to be desired in county government.