County hoping to avoid tax increase

ELIZABETHTOWN — The wrestling and hand-wringing over the 2015-16 budget continued Monday when county commissioners gathered to take another look at what lay before.

What they saw is perhaps the worst-case scenario becoming a reality, which is the distinct possibility that residents will be facing a tax-rate increase because of a variety of causes.

“It’s a pretty difficult situation we’re in,” said County Manager Greg Martin, “especially because of this being a re-evaluation year, costs associated with the jail project, debt services, EMS needs and others.”

One area that doesn’t appear to be a challenge for commissioners, according to Martin, is the recent requests by the Board of Education for additional budget funding. Those requests have indicated the school district was hoping for up to a $500,000 increase over the 2014-15 budget, but Martin said it looks like commissioners are going to keep the school district’s allocation at $6.4 million, the same as the past year.

“According to the way the discussions have gone, that’s what I would expect,” Martin said.

Another area of discussion was focused on the county’s economic development. County Director Chuck Heustess told commissioners that Bladen County currently lacks the necessary buildings to entice potential businesses to re-locate here, and he was looking for about $144,000 to start that process.

“We simply have a lack of buildings to show prospective businesses,” Martin said. “There is a real need to develop existing buildings to attract new business here.”

With all of the current expenses the county is looking at, Martin said a tax increase of about 8 cents would be necessary.

Martin said commissioners are scheduled to meet on the budget again on Monday, June 22. The new budget is required to be in place by July 1.

“The plan by Chairman Charles Ray Peterson is to pass a budget then,” Martin said. He added that the board has instructed him to go through the budget and look for areas that could be trimmed.

Commissioners also have a regularly scheduled meeting set for Monday, June 15.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.