LOUISBURG -- The Franklin County Board of Commissioners adopted an $88.8 million spending plan without much dialogue, much to the chagrin of one board member.
Commissioners had a public hearing on the matter during a virtual meeting on June 1, which prompted no public comments about the budget.
Still, rules require that governing boards wait at least 24 hours to take action on a matter that warranted a public hearing, so the board recessed the meeting until the afternoon of June 4.
During that June 1, Commissioner Michael Schriver asked if the board would be considering approval of the budget and, during the June 4 meeting, he said the response he got from county staff was not to expect such action.
"... [But] here we are being asked to approve a budget that I feel like, again, I've had very little, if any, input in," Schriver said during the June 4 afternoon meeting.
"I realize COVID-19 makes an issue, but this continues to be a trend of past years. It's not just COVID this year that's inhibiting any type of one-on-one discussion or a couple of group discussions about some interest or concerns to any great detail," he said.
"So, I'm just postured with the reality that we're going to continue to do this, no matter what anybody says or what anybody's concerns are," he said. "Once the manager's budget is presented, it's considered gospel truth and at the end of the day, we're going to vote on it regardless of anybody's opinion or concerns or, more importantly, the people's concerns."
Schriver wasn't done.
After Commission Sidney Dunston's motion to adopt the budget and, Commissioner Mark Speed's second, Schriver said he was concerned about a budget that, while it doesn't raise the tax rate, does dip into people's pocketbooks by raising the trash availability fee by $10 and continues to pull money from the county's savings account.
"I struggle with continuing to go up on people's tax rate, indirectly, through individual fees," he said. "I realize the enterprise fund, our solid waste fund has some variables to be considered, but when we look at a budget that we are proposing to pull [more than] $4 million out of our savings account to balance, that just raises alarm.
"And, when there is an unwillingness to sit down and have any kind of dialogue with vested people in this process, and an unwillingness to really consider other people's thoughts, ideas, suggestions and things such as that, it's rather disappointing.
"And, it really beckons the question: What are we really accomplishing here in diplomacy?
"I realize and learned probably a decade ago from my fellow commissioner, Cedric Jones, that majority rules and you have to be at peace with that.
"... That gave me a lot of solace, but it still doesn't remove the point that when we have an opportunity to do more work and we choose to simply move along.
"Sooner or later, our tax rate is going to have to be adjusted downward," Schriver said. "Our manager has made that comment in the last 12 months that we can't continue to tax at the ad valorem rate that we are.
The county, Schriver said, has the 11th or 12 highest tax rate in the state.
"We take the shortest amount of time to give consideration to a budget with very little input from the elected officials, which are supposed to be the people's voices.
"So, is government working for the government, or is government working for the people?" Schriver said. "In this situation, I'm sad to say that the government is working for itself."
Commission Chair Sidney Dunston took a bit of an exception.
"I'm glad to say the government is working for the people," he said. "You have the opportunity to discuss at any state of the process, any time you want, to input anything to the budget."
Commission Vice Chair Shelley Dickerson also took exception with Schriver, noting that he had opportunities to provide input this fiscal year and in past sessions, but did not do so.
"I kind of take offense to [Schriver's] comments," she said. "My understanding from [County Clerk Kristen King] and [County Manager Angela Harris] is that we had to wait 24 hours before we could vote on the budget ...
"To say it is surprise today, I don't think is true," she said, noting that commissioners get correspondence from county staff alerting them to matters before them.
"... Last year, I specifically asked you, Michael, what do you want to talk about with the budget and you would not say.
"The year before, I sent an email to everybody in response to [former Finance Director Chuck Murray's budget presentation] saying that I was happy with the budget except the school resource officer and I wanted to talk about that.
"Nobody else brought anything up," Dickerson recalled. "And then they seemed surprised that I made a motion [to adopt the budget].
"So, to say that our county employes are not giving us the information that we need or that they're not trying to work together, I think is untrue."
Commissioner Schriver and Commissioner David Bunn, who had previously expressed opposition to the higher solid waste fees, were the only commissioners to vote against the budget.
Budget highlights include:
• Maintaining a tax rate of 80.5 cents per $100 of valuation;
• The budget does not include a transfer from the county's savings account to the solid waste fund. The current budget pulls just more than $412,000 from county coffers to balance the newly established enterprise fund.
• Providing the school system $21.1 million to meet its operational expenses and $1 million to meet its capital needs -- both the full extent of what the school system requested;
• A two-percent cost-of-living raise for employees, but the budget does not implement a compensation and classification plan that would have provided pay boosts for employees. Implementation of the plan would cost the county between $600,000 and $1.8 million -- without benefits;
• Four new positions -- a school resource officer in Youngsville, a public health nurse, and two posts beginning in January, a community paramedic and fire marshal;
• Money -- $188,000 -- for an agreement with Open Broadband LLC to deploy the technology, focusing on unserved and underserved areas of Franklin County; $125,000 to craft the county's new Unified Development Ordinance; $40,000 to develop a countywide bike and pedestrian plan, $20,000 to pay for a long-gestating Epsom Park master plan.