Sunday, May 19, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners agree to cut back ABSS capital spending

Lashley succeeds at getting $325K reduction

Alamance County’s commissioners have decided to pare back the county manager’s proposed contribution to the capital improvements that Alamance-Burlington school system will undertake in the new fiscal year.

The commissioners reached a consensus during a budgetary “work session” on Monday to cut $325,000 from the $3.9 million that county manager Heidi York had previously recommended for the school system’s capital expenditures.

County manager Heidi York (right)

In particular, the revenue which the commissioners have opted to cut had originally been set aside for the installation of new bleachers at Cummings High School. The commissioners insisted that their elimination of these funds from the manager’s proposed allocation isn’t meant to put the kibosh on this project but to force the school system to proceed with the work during the current financial cycle.

Particularly keen on this strategy was county commissioner Bill Lashley, who argued that the schools have enough excess revenue in their current annual budget to cover the cost of these bleachers.

“There’s $620,000 that they did not use from their last year’s budget. So, I’m not going to pull money out of my back pocket to pay for this when they [school system officials] have the money to fund it.”

– County commissioner Bill Lashley

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“There’s $620,000 that they did not use from their last year’s budget,” Lashley went on to assure the rest of the county’s governing board. “So, I’m not going to pull money out of my back pocket to pay for this when they have the money to fund it.”

Lashley attributed about two thirds of the alleged excess to unexpended salary supplements, which aren’t actually paid out of the school system’s capital funds. The commissioner went on to argue that, given this putative surplus, the county shouldn’t have to dig deeper into its general fund to cover the school system’s capital expenditures. His rationale was later thrown for a loop, however, when the county’s finance director observed that the school system’s capital outlays are technically funded with revenue that’s separate from the county’s general fund.

In any event, the commissioners resolved to cut the funds for the bleachers while preserving the rest of the county manager’s proposed allocation for the school system’s capital expenditures.

At $3,575,000, this revised allocation is still $275,000 higher than what the school system had received from the county in the spring of 2023. Included within this figure are $875,000 for security cameras and electronic doors, $500,000 for fire safety and $500,000 for an “emergency contingency” that would allow the schools to tackle smaller, capital projects that emerge during the course of the year.

York had previously informed the commissioners that her original allocation for the school system’s capital needs included most of the $4.03 million that the school system’s administrators had sought from the county. She noted, however, that she did cut $100,000 from the school system’s proposed contingency, which had originally stood at $600,000.

 

Other capital outlays

The commissioners chose to make no modifications to the manager’s proposed allocation for Alamance Community College. At $536,000, this sum represented no change from ACC’s own request to the county – or to the county’s current commitment to the community college’s capital outlays.

The commissioners also made no immediate changes to the manager’s recommendations for the county’s own capital needs. These proposed outlays include $2.83 million for the county’s so-called “paygo” expenses. York stressed that only $2 million of this total would come from the general fund; the remainder would be drawn from the county’s capital reserves, which would still contain more than $8 million in funds that haven’t been earmarked for any particular propose

York told the commissioners that her proposed “paygo” allotment would be distributed among the following capital projects:

  • $250,000 would go toward the renovation of a former law office along Graham’s Maple Street that the county recently acquired to house the local court system’s new public defender. According to assistant county manager Brian Baker, this facility should be ready for the public defender to occupy sometime this fall;
  • $928,071 to replace the roof on the county jail, which has reportedly reached the end of its lifespan;
  • $59,100 to make some repairs to the jail’s exterior;
  • $170,000 to repair the elevator in Alamance County’s Historic Court House, which is apparently old enough that the replacement parts are no longer available;
  • $100,000 to renovate the bailiffs’ breakroom in the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Court House to serve as an office for the county’s newly authorized fifth district court judge;
  • and $322,829 to cover a “hodgepodge” of smaller capital projects, many of them HVAC-related.

 

Big-ticket items

Monday’s work session also gave York the opportunity to delve into two costlier projects that proved too large to fit into county manager’s proposed “paygo” allocation.

These two larger outlays comprise $5.2 for a new computer-aided dispatch system for the county’s 9-1-1 center and another $5 million to upgrade the radios that the county uses for emergency communications in the field.

In both of these cases, York said the county will need to take out installment loans to pay for these projects. According to Susan Evans, the county’s finance director, the county can theoretically pay off the loan for the dispatch system in two years and for the field radios in seven. In each instance, the first year’s payment would be an interest-only installment that would amount to $129,000 for the dispatch system and $126,500 for the radios.

These two projects ultimately triggered a tangential discussion among the commissioners about the separations that currently exist between the county’s emergency communications and those in the city of Burlington. In the hope of merging these two systems, the county has previously agreed to use $15 million in state funds to purchase and retrofit a building in Burlington to serve as a new headquarters for both the county’s 9-1-1 center and Burlington’s municipal dispatchers.

“It makes no sense to me to spend this kind of money and not have this kind of cooperation.”

– County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr., in urging consolidation of Burlington’s and county’s emergency communications systems

The fact that the two systems would remain separate, despite their new co-located setting, didn’t go over well with John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners. Paisley even tried to goad his fellow commissioners to put off the upgrade of the computer-aided dispatch system until the two services are actually merged.

“It makes no sense to me to spend this kind of money and not have this kind of cooperation,” the commissioners’ chairman declared.

Paisley’s proposal nevertheless fell flat with the rest of the board once York pointed out that the merger of the two systems would be more feasible with the proposed upgrades, which would affect Burlington’s emergency dispatchers as well as the county’s.

“We’ve been working on this project over the years,” the county manager said. “We’ve purchased a co-located facility…and we’re embarking on a new software system.”

 

To be decided…

York went on to concede that her capital improvement plan for the county doesn’t include any immediate allocations for a proposed EMS substation in Mebane, the renovation of a now-vacant building along Burlington’s Martin Street that once housed the county’s elderly services, and a prospective expansion of the facilities which the county provides for the local court system.

According to the county manager’s figures, the new substation and the proposed makeover of the former elderly service’s building will cost Alamance County $5 million apiece. Meanwhile, York didn’t put any price tag on the court system’s expansion, although she and her colleagues have previously bandied around sums ranging from $50 million to $67 million to renovate and expand the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Court House.

Another, less costly alternative that the county’s administrators have floated would have the county cede its own headquarters to the court system and purchase privately-owned buildings in downtown Graham to rehouse its displaced operations. As a prelude to pursuing this option, the county’s administrators have contemplated the potential purchase of two buildings that Alamance Farmers Mutual owns near the intersection of Maple and Harden streets, or alternately, a bank branch that Bank of America has shuttered along South Main Street.

The commissioners ultimately went behind closed doors for an hour on Monday to discuss each of these potential purchases. They nevertheless had no formal action to report when they emerged from this private powwow at 12:30 a.m.

In the meantime, the commissioners are bracing themselves for a rather tempestuous debate over the county manager’s proposed budget, which is scheduled to be presented to the commissioners on May 20.

Commissioner Craig Turner conceded that he and his colleagues may need all their wits about them when they take up the manager’s spending plan for themselves.

“I think we’ll be looking for some creativity in about six weeks,” Turner opined at the end of Monday’s work session.

“And a magic wand,” commissioner Lashley chimed in.

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