Craven County property owners will get a slightly lower tax bill in August under the $98 million budget the Craven County Board of Commissioners adopted on Monday.
The 2013-14 spending plan trims a quarter-cent off the county’s property tax rate, dropping it from 47 cents per $100 valuation to 46.75 cents.
The owner of a $200,000 home will save about $5 in property taxes under the plan, which reduces county revenue by about $247,000.
Commissioners pushing for the cut said they thought the message sent means more than the money itself: that Craven County runs a tight ship, and its leaders know the money they spend belongs to the people.
Each of the seven commissioners, including the lone dissenter in the 6-to-1 vote, praised county management staff for their work in helping the board toe the line.
District 5 Commissioner Theron McCabe, who represents part of Havelock and the Harlowe community, said he agreed with much of the budget, but could not vote for it because it did not include money for computers by the Havelock-Craven County Public Library and because it discontinues the congregate meals program for Harlowe and Havelock senior citizens.
“I feel that by not providing any meals, this will have a detrimental effect on the community,” he said, citing the recreation and socialization seniors get along with the meals.
The issue had emerged as the most controversial item in this year’s budgeting process. The meals programs were discontinued at those two centers at the recommendation of Craven County Aging Planning Board, which had federal and state funding for the program cut.
The Aging Planning Board requested data from the county’s four senior centers operating congregate meal programs and determined the total received could be used most effectively at two centers. Those qualifying for meals under new criteria can be transported to New Bern if other arrangements are not made.
Havelock city officials argued that the cuts should have been spread out over the entire county rather than having the entire program cut in the eastern part of the county.
Commissioners Lee K. Allen of District 6, which includes most of Havelock, and Johnnie Sampson of District 3, which includes most of New Bern, both had some qualms about parts of the budget, but voted to adopt it.
“There are a few things I do not agree with,” Allen said.
Sampson said: “The county manager and staff did an outstanding job, but in this budget, I see less fortunate citizens will really be suffering in the upcoming year. We need to give assistance to taxpayers, but this leaves others out that really need help.”
He mentioned job cuts in the Department of Social Services that he said would slow down claims processing for those needing assistance.
“It’s a heartache to me for this budget to go forward,” Sampson said.
Chairman Scott Dacey of District 4 said the county tried to treat all the libraries equally and that good, used computers were made available from the corporate community. They were accepted by some and not by others.
As for the congregate meals programs being discontinued in Havelock and Harlowe, Dacey said, “It is not the job of the taxpayers to pay” for meals to help seniors socialize. “We shouldn’t be paying for social gatherings of any type. That’s where the line has got to be drawn.”
Special appropriations added and approved by commissioners include: $7,500 for Structured Day Reporting; $20,000 for Promise Place; $25,000 for MERCI Clinic; $3,418 for a Senior Companion grant match; $25,000 for Coastal Women’s Shelter; $10,000 for Religious Community Services; and $5,000 for the Red Cross.
Commissioners reasoned that these private, nonprofit programs provide services that would otherwise have to be borne by taxpayers in some way.