LUMBERTON – Anticipating almost $1 million from the state to help with Medicaid, the county Board of Commissioners approved a 2006 fiscal year budget that includes an 11-cent drop in the tax rate and $65,000 for a new assistant county manager.
The $128 million budget was approved Tuesday night in a 5 to 3 vote. Last week the commissioners had deadlocked at 4-4, with the new assistant county manager’s position being the holdup.
The commissioners had planned to reduce the current tax rate of 91 cents for every $100 of property valuation to 81 cents because of revaluation, but decided Tuesday night to shave one more cent off the tax rate.
That was done based on additional state funding for Medicaid. The General Assembly is currently considering a Medicaid relief bill that would provide $942,306 for Medicaid for Robeson County. The county expects to pay about $12.5 million next year for the government-sponsored health insurance plan.
Commissioner Bill Herndon, who voted against the budget last week, said he changed his mind when he learned the county could drop the tax rate by more than a dime.
"The people deserve consideration from time to time," Herndon said. "That is my sole reason for doing this."
Herndon was the only commissioners to change his vote from the June 20 meeting. Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Noah Woods, Tommy Wellington and Johnny Hunt voted in favor of the budget, while Hubert Sealey, Tom Taylor and E.B. Turner remained steadfast in their opposition.
Taylor said this morning that the assistant manager’s position remained a sticking point. He said he still did not think the position was needed.
But County Manager Ken Windley told the board Tuesday that he needed the help. He also tried to dispel rumors that the job had been promised to an American Indian.
"I didn’t ask anyone," Windley said. "This position was created because I needed some help."
But there was little discussion Tuesday night about the position. The board focused instead on the help expected from the state. The House passed the Medicaid relief bill two weeks ago. The Senate still has to approve the measure as part of the budget.
Commissioner Noah Woods, who has been a longtime advocate of changing how the state funds Medicaid, said he was pleased with the proposed change. North Carolina is the only state in America that requires counties to fund a portion of Medicaid. In Robeson County, Medicaid costs take approximately 34 percent of the money collected from taxes, the highest percentage of any county in the state.
"It’s a start," Woods said. "Eventually, we won’t have to participate in Medicaid, but we can’t stop here."
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