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Commissioners retreat: Granville County to zero in on zero-based budget

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OXFORD — The annual retreat of the Granville County Board of Commissioners, held Jan. 30-31, came off as a much more streamlined affair than in previous years.

The special session was the first opportunity for many in attendance to be apprised of a new, zero-based budgeting process the county will use next fiscal year.

Zero-based budgeting is a process in which all expenses must be justified and approved for each county department. Developed in the 1970s, ZBB has been a process implemented in both public and private sectors.

“Starting next month, Steve (McNally, county finance director) and I will work together on what the final budget document will look at,” said County Manager Michael Felts. “We’re taking this opportunity to make some changes to what the final product looks like.”

He said he’ll meet with each county department in March, a similar process to how the budget was compiled in past years.

“The difference being is that we’re going to spend a little more time on narrative rather than the numbers,” Felts said. “They are going to present their numbers based on what they have to have to run their offices and what they want to have.

Felts said commissioners will see those numbers combined together as the department request. Commissioners will also see the manager’s recommended funding levels, which may be different.

Felts also detailed the usual steps in the budgeting process, including a two-session budget workshop with commissioners in late April that will be focused on department expenses. After the county receives a final report on its revenues at the end of April, Felts will make a recommendation on the budget the the board will vote on in June before the fiscal year begins in July.

The board actively took a step towards understanding the needs of the various county departments by having a lunch workshop with department heads in different categories, including general government, human resources, economic development and law enforcement.

The commissioners said the retreat is their favorite meeting of the year.

“We may see these people all the time but we don’t often get a chance to break bread with them at the same place,” said Commissioner Edgar Smoak, who sat at a table of county services representatives.

Among the variables commissioners must take into consideration are growth trends within the county. The commissioners were presented with data from the N.C. Department of Commerce that, as of the beginning of this year, the Granville population topped 60,000 with a 2.5% increase year over year.

The median age of the population is 43, but that number is likely to go up in the next few years with younger adults moving out and middle-aged adults moving in.

Concerns about continued growth in the face of water and sewer capacity were also raised.

One county project that seemed to get the most attention was the soon-to-be-opened law enforcement center and animal shelter. The project, which is over a month ahead of schedule and budgeted at $33 million, is almost 80% complete with construction costs per contract at 78%, a number which according to County Development Services Director Scott Phillips is a good thing.

“You want to keep that bottom number below the top number,” he said.

Construction is expected to be completed by early May with inspections and equipment testing to follow before the facility opens later this year.

Animal Management Director Matt Katz expressed excitement over the new facility, which will have more capacity for animals and equipment. In his report, Katz detailed detailed higher percentages of animals leaving the shelter with a new owner (87%), up from 60% when he was hired.

“We have also seen an increase in people choosing to allow cat colonies behind their businesses (i.e., grocery stores) as another alternative to just calling us and having them picked up,” Katz said. “Cats are going to be around where there are people and food.”

He also detailed reports of wild coyotes attacking cat colonies as well as bobcat sightings in the northern part of the county.

Other presentations of note included one from Social Services Director Adonica Hampton, who discussed yearly stats for child and adult services and challenges facing the department.

“Our No. 1 challenge as usual is high employee turnover, specifically in our economic services department,” she said.

According to Hampton, the need for new employees is compounded by the requirement to be trained before they can be used. Commissioners unanimously voted to let the department work with Vanguard Professional Staffing to install temporary workers with process knowledge to assist staff

The next meeting of the Granville County Board of Commissioners is 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Granville County Expo and Convention Center, 4185 U.S. Highway 15 South in Oxford.