LEE COUNTY: Commissioners discuss taxes, incentives, public school budget

Jun. 18, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

At a meeting Monday night, the Lee County Board of Commissioners discussed a slew of financial matters, including property and sales taxes, economic incentives and the public school budget.

Lee County Finance Director Lisa Minter — who County Manager John Crumpton praised for her and her staff having now won an award for good financial reporting 15 years in a row — said the county's sales tax collections for March were just tabulated and were high compared to previous months, but she warned that March is typically one of the best months for sales tax revenue.

"Welcome to the roller coaster," she said. "... We still have to see what the next quarter holds."

Lee County Tax Administrator Mary Yow said the county received 363 formal appeals to its property tax revaluations this year. Those appeals resulted in the taxable value of property in the county decreasing to $4,442,906,600 from a pre-appeal total of $4,572,505,300. However, that's still 7.11 percent higher than the total value of taxable property in Lee County last year, which was $4,147,867,500.

The board also continued a spat with the Lee County Board of Education which began earlier this month when the commissioners asked Crumpton to send a letter asking about funding sources and how much the schools plan to spend on technology next year. School officials said at the time they were angry that those questions weren't asked at a recent budget meeting between the two boards. In response, Crumpton said, school officials sent him a massive stack of papers even though the requested data could probably fit on one page.

"It's not rocket science," Commissioner Jim Womack said after the board voted unanimously for Crumpton to send another letter asking for that single-page answer, adding that he would like to know how much the schools plan to spend on laptops next year while also asking the county for help funding teaching assistant positions.

Commissioner Amy Dalrymple, a former Lee County teaching assistant, also said she wanted to know how the schools plan to deal with their limited resources: "My feeling is, if it's in the lower grades, I prefer teacher assistants to technology."

Crumpton also reported about $300,000 in incentive payments to various companies with local operations arranged by the Lee County Economic Development Corporation — a group the commissioners are working to retool. Crumpton said that in the future, contracts should be more specific about what companies must do to be paid.

Commissioner Robert Reives warned his fellow board members to be careful of criticizing the companies themselves.

"We had a poorly written contract," he said. "That's not their fault, and I don't fault them for taking advantage of it. ... Our focus ought to be on what we intend to do to improve on the contracts."

Reives also took issue with the decision to redistribute sales tax income from Sanford and Broadway to the county's coffers, which he blamed for the city's recent discussion on raising property taxes. But Womack said the commissioners must do what's best for the county and lowering property taxes will make Lee County more competitive with neighboring counties. The commissioners have no control over what the city does, he said.

"Rather than cut their expenses by $1.3 million, they'd rather raise taxes," Womack said. He also said he'd be happy to find cuts if the city would let him and suggested starting with the municipal golf course.

The board also:

* Approved the health department to officially invite the N.C. Farm Bureau to visit Lee County in October to offer breast cancer screenings and other medical services and information to the public. Dalrymple and Andre Knecht spoke in favor of the potential visit, during which the Farm Bureau has also promised to pay $2,000 to the local Helping Hands Clinic.

* Asked Chairman Charlie Parks to look into solar-powered backup batteries for street lights, so that another power outage might not create as many traffic problems as Commissioner Kirk Smith reported experiencing.

* Approved changes to minutes of budget meetings with the schools and with various non-profits which Womack said didn't accurately reflect what he said in those meetings.

* Approved a July 4 fireworks show put on yearly by Joel Ammons at the Sanford Health & Rehab, located at 2702 Farrell Road.

* Approved the purchase of equipment for a backup 911 center and a new vehicle for the Lee County Sheriff's Office, replacing one that was totaled in a wreck.

* Heard a request from Jerry Pedley to rezone five parcels he owns on Hawkins Avenue for light industrial use.

* Approved a memorandum of understanding with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners to pilot a post-graduate fellowship for people who have recently received a master's degree in public administration.

* Approved appointees to various boards and committees.

* Approved a budget amendment for new equipment at Horton Park.