Macon commissioners meet to address mid-year budget needs

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The Macon County Board of Commissioners began the 2016-17 fiscal year budget on Tuesday with the first of a series of meetings looking at the county’s current financial state while also setting priorities for the coming year.
With half of the fiscal year completed, Macon County Manager Derek Roland approached commissioners about financial needs within the county that needed to be addressed before year’s end. During last year’s budget planning process, commissioners allocated funding for the Macon County Public Library and the Cowee Heritage Center and instructed Roland to follow those projects and revisit their funding needs mid-year.
Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who serves as liaison to the library board updated his fellow commissioners on technology needs at the library. Last year, Macon County Library Director Karen Wallace asked for a four percent funding increase, which would amount to $40,000. The request was made in large part to replace outdated equipment and technology at the library. At the time of the request, commissioners asked Wallace to work with the library board on securing other funds or grants for the technology and agreed to revisit the issue mid-year.
On Tuesday, Beale said that the library had worked with the Friends of the Library and were able to raise funds and secure a $5,000 grant toward the technology needs. Beale recommended commissioners allocate the additional $17,600 needed to replace 11 computers and tablets at the library, which serve hundreds of Macon County residents each week. Commissioners unanimously voted to allocate the funds to the library.
During last year’s budget planning process, Macon County Heritage Center at Cowee School requested $80,000 from commissioners to cover operational expenses at the facility. Commissioners agreed to allocate half of the request at $40,000 and encouraged the center to apply for grants and reduce their budget and agreed to revisit the request mid-year. As of Tuesday, Cowee School had $12,800 remaining of the initial $40,000 allocation. After applying for grants and reducing their budget for the first half of the year, Cowee School requested the county allocate $18,000 to finish out the fiscal year. Commissioners unanimously approved the request.
The funds for the library and Cowee School were taken out of the county’s contingency fund which was $136,350. After Tuesday’s allocation, the county’s contingency fund sits at $100,750.
With the first tournaments of 2016 scheduled at Parker Meadows in March, Roland presented commissioners with recommendations from the Macon County Recreation Commission regarding additional needs at the complex. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ Risk Assessment reviewed the new recreation park and recommended several safety measures be taken to prevent the county from liability issues in the future.
According to Roland, several structures were needed at the park such as fencing around the pond and extended safety nets between the adjoining fields. During last year’s tournament, a spectator was hit with a foul ball. Protective covering would be needed to prevent future incidents. Fencing is also needed above the dugouts. In total, the rec commissioner recommended $120,000 in safety structures around the field to prepare for the coming tournaments.
Other additional recommendations from the rec commission and Macon County Recreation Director Seth Adams included extending the walking trail at the facility, bringing the walking trail to 1.1 miles and allowing it to connect, striping the basketball court with appropriate basketball and pickle ball lines, and finishing a section of sidewalk that wasn’t completed during construction.
A motion was made by Beale and seconded by Commissioner Gary Shields to move forward with the safety measures in the amount of $120,000 and extending the walking trail at a cost of $29,500. Beale’s vote also included funding the $149,500 out of a $200,000 line item that was originally earmarked to pay the first QZAB loan payment for a school renovation project. Because the QZAB projects got a late start, the first payment isn’t due until August, which is a new fiscal year. Because the funds will go unused and placed back into the general fund come June, Beale suggested a budget amendment to allow the money to pay for the needs at Parker Meadows. The motion was passed in a split 3-2 vote with Commission Chair Kevin Corbin voting with Shields and Beale and Commissioners Paul Higdon and Jim Tate casting the no votes.
Tate explained that while he supported the need for the safety structures and supported extending the walking trail, he did not support paying for the project using the $200,000 earmarked for the QZAB loan.
“I just want to see that money stay with the school system,” said Tate. “I would support paying for it out of contingency or the fund balance, but we put that money in the budget for the schools, so it should stay there.”
Beale explained that the money came from the general fund to pay for a loan payment that the county won’t have in the 2015 year, therefore the  money isn’t being taken away from the schools.
Higdon explained that he too supported the safety measures needed at the park, but believes that the rec commission has additional concerns such as the irrigation at the park, and those issues should be considered before funding projects such as a trail extension.

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