What we can do without

In a comment to my post “Keep the taxman busy” from Thursday, Terri Buckner asked what I would give up in county services. That got me to thinking, which often gets me into trouble. But I came up with a number of items from the fiscal 2010 budget that I believe could be trimmed or at least scaled back.

The county budgeted $25,000 on recruitment in FY2010, as well as $10,000 in relocation expenses. I’d bet there’s not a lot of county recruitment or relocating going on these days. The county also spent $63,000 on employee development/computer training. Seems like the commissioners could easily trim 10 percent of that cost, even if it means one or two less diversity training sessions. The school health nurse program got $617,732 for FY2010; seems like a lot of money to have someone hand out Tylenol and take temperatures, and it could be much more cost-effective to have a few nurses with cell phones await a call and head on over to the affected school.

El Centro Latino got $17,850, but since that organization has departed, the county should save that money. Also, the county could cut its $8,500 for The ArtsCenter. And maybe the county’s drug-testing program, which cost $8,600 this year, could be scaled back.

Big-ticket items include the planned county telephone system replacement, which weighed in at a cool $1 million. Renovations to the Link Center as well as the Planning and Agriculture Building cost $625,000. And plans to build an addition to the Southern Human Services Center cost $300,000 this fiscal year, and the bill will come to $6 million over the next three years. That’s a lot of money to add a dental clinic.

SportsPlex membership discounts cost the county $35,000. Maintenance costs for the SportsPlex facility run $150,000. I’m sure there are plenty of possible cuts there.

All this could have added up to more than $2 million in savings. Now, I know that county folks who are much more knowledgeable about what these funds go toward can probably weigh in and justify some of those expenditures. But when it comes down to it, it’s a simple question of what we must have now and what we can do without.
–Don Evans

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13 Comments

  1. Terri Buckner

     /  April 26, 2010

    I’m glad I got you thinking. But you need to do more investigation into the role of school nurse before you blindly cut those positions.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  April 26, 2010

    Do any of your suggestions affect you or your family directly?

  3. Nancy Oates

     /  April 26, 2010

    Terri, do you have more information on the school nurse budget increase? A more than $600,000 increase would hire 10 nurses easily. Does the school system not have nurses at present? I know the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools share nurses, and I haven’t heard of any major problems because of it.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  April 26, 2010

    Don’s post didn’t mention an increase Nancy.

    The county pays for all school nurses separate from school budgets. It’s an important program, and they do much more than hand out Tylenol and take temperatures. I’ve never been at an elementary school or middle school where there weren’t children waiting to see the nurse. I never worked in high schools, but I imagine there is even greater demand there.

    There may be cost savings possible, but it’s one of those issues that I think deserves deeper understanding before recommending budget cuts.

  5. Andy in NC

     /  April 26, 2010

    Forgive my ignorance but what’s the big picture? How big is the budget?

  6. Geoff Green

     /  April 26, 2010

    Good point re: the $25,000 on recruitment. As for the $10,000 on relocation, I can imagine there are certain jobs out there in high demand for which Orange County would need to pay relocation expenses to attract qualified candidates.

    Drug testing seems expendable, but the moment some county employee gets in an accident because they’re high on the job or something, you’ll have people clambering for an explanation as to how they could dare cut such an inexpensive program which keeps our children safe!!!!!!

    As for some of the other things, I can imagine that the costs of some items are made up for by less spending on other items. For example, maybe the county telephone system replacement eliminates or reduces excessively high costs for maintenance of the current system. (By the way, the cost of the new system is only $575,000, according to this OC action item abstract: http://www.co.orange.nc.us/occlerks/0906024cc.pdf ).

    Regarding the Triangle Sportsplex , Orange County actually owns it, so I’m skeptical of the alleged “cost” calculations regarding membership discounts. There may be possible cuts in the maintenance budget, but since the Sportsplex relies on the discretionary purchase of memberships, I’m not sure cutting maintenance will help keep the Sportsplex’s income high.

    In any event, not to quibble with your selections and I’m glad you identified some possibilities for savings, but the problem is that just about any expenditure not has only a strong constituency supporting it, but eliminating the expenditure probably won’t result in the expected cost savings.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  April 26, 2010

    Apparently school nurses are contracted through the Health Dept. Based on the figures in this contract document, they earn about $62,000 per year for 10-month jobs. Since they get full benefits, I’m assuming that’s about $45,000 in salary.
    http://www.co.orange.nc.us/OCCLERKS/0709064d.pdf

  8. At the risk of mentioning the ” the elephant in the room” how about the dual school systems and administrations in Orange County?

    Or to stick another finger in the wound the dual administrations, firemen, police and on for Chapel Hill and Carrboro?

  9. Anon

     /  April 26, 2010

    @Steve

    smaller school systems have many benfits large ones don’t.
    Look at Wake county if you want an example of why bigger isn’t better.
    The admin savings for schools is relatively tiny to everything else. Also, remember when you have bigger operations (more employees) the same level administrator makes more $$ so it’s not a one to one reduction in cost.

  10. Ed Harrison

     /  April 26, 2010

    The Carrboro Board of Aldermen has made clear many times in several decades that it has no interest in any merger, as a town, with Chapel Hill. No one bothers to ask any more. The most service-intensive bus system in the state is a standing partnership between UNC (the major funder) and the two towns, and provides service into three counties. All area fire departments have standing, constantly-used, mutual-aid agreements. (Carrboro FD responded to the Chatham County courthouse fire). The police departments work together in ways you don’t even want to ask about.

  11. Bill

     /  April 26, 2010

    Hey, there Anon- how about providing some facts to back up your claims? I will wait patiently for your response……

    There is nothing that can be cut, Don- it will impact someone, and heaven forbid that.

    Much better to raise taxes ever higher, it is easier than making actual choices. Sad but true. I look forward to retiring and moving to a more fiscally responsible local government. It cannot happen too soon.

  12. Anon

     /  April 27, 2010

    the CHCCS budget is about $128 million (that is the city schools alone not counting the county)… the redundancy would only be in a handful of administrators . however, consolidation would open up huge busing nightmares to balance out school populations spread over larger distances (what has caused much of the tension in Wake).

    http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/03/26/408486/chapel-hill-carrboro-schools-approve.html

    and in government the more people you manage in your organization (and the larger population you serve) the more you get paid (as a general rule for the same job title)…

  13. Bill

     /  April 27, 2010

    Sorry, Anon, you did not answer my question, which was about where is the proof that merging the schools would not result in cost savings?

    Stating that “the redundancy would only be in a handful of administrators . however, consolidation would open up huge busing nightmares to balance out school populations spread over larger distances ” is changing the subject and not answering the question.

    Please support or retract your claim. Thanks, I am sure you too are interested in a factual discussion of this issue.

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