County adopts new budget

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2015-16 budget by a vote of 6-3 with Commissioners Daniel Dowless, Billy Ray Pait and Jimmie Smith casting the no votes.

The budget will carry an ad valorem tax rate of 0.82 cents per $100 valuation, which is an increase of 0.08 cents.

Bladen County Commissioner Chairman Charles Ray Peterson issued a written statement on the budget that read:

“The development of the fiscal year 2016 Bladen County Budget has been a challenging process. There have been a number of important factors given consideration in developing a balanced budget. Two key factors have been the uncertainty of the impact of revaluation as well as the financial impact of the debt service and operating costs associated with a new detention and law enforcement center.

“Other budgetary factors included the need for additional revenue to fund capital and operating costs for Emergency Medical Services, and the need to identify funds to assist economic development efforts in constructing an industrial shell building, needed as a critical tool to recruit industry to Bladen County. There are currently no available industrial buildings in the county.

“During the budget process, school system officials requested additional funding to complete the current fiscal year. Commissioners funded this request in a professional manner and agreed to maintain next year’s appropriation for the school system at the existing current year level. With a continuing decline in students and state revenue, both the BOE and BOCC recognize the need to develop a long-term, sustainable plan for Bladen County Schools that is in the best interest of our children and the community as a whole.

“Each member of the Board of County Commissioners cares very deeply about Bladen County. Individually and collectively, we have a strong desire to fund critical services such as education, public safety and human services, while maintaining a reasonable tax burden for our citizens.

“By adopting the budget tonight, the Board has had to, unfortunately, make the difficult decision to substantially increase the property tax rate for the upcoming year. This decision was not made without a great deal of consideration.

“Hopefully, the N.C. General Assembly will approve proposed sales tax legislation to shift the distribution to assist rural counties. This would provide much needed economic assistance to Bladen County and our seven municipalities.

“Regardless of the proposed legislation, I hope this Board will consider authorizing a referendum to allow voters the opportunity to approve the Article 46 1/4 cent sales tax, with the revenue to be earmarked for the specific purpose of relieving the property tax burden for our citizens.”

The board also discussed the sales tax proposal which is being debated in the N.C. Senate.

“According to N.C. SPIN this weekend, the governor is not on board with it,” said Bladen County Manager Greg Martin.

He added the county has capital needs that it is trying to address and the Article 46 sales tax would help to ease the burden on county tax payers.

In other business:

— The board approved JOSS Transportation as a Department of Social Services Medicaid Transportation vendor.

— The board approved the revised Medication Assistance Program grant application.

— Martin updated the board on the timber bids for the jail location. He said that the county has received two bids. One in the amount of $3,000 and a second in the amount of $3,100. Martin said the commissioners will vote on the matter at their next meeting in July.

Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.