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Duplin tax hike protests continue, budget passes 3-2

TAX PROTEST - Gary Davis of the River Landing community in Duplin County protested a proposed tax increase for a second time on Monday night in front of the Duplin County Board of Commissioners. Despite the protests of Davis and others, the board signed off on a one-cent tax increase in next year’s budget. (staff photo by BARRY MERRILL)
By Barry Merrill
Tribune Publisher
The tax protest chorus continued, and apparently won another vote, but Duplin County Commissioners approved their new budget with a 1¢ property tax increase Monday night.
Gary Davis and Hank Frey of the River Landing Community continued their attacks on the county manager and county commissioners in the second county meeting of the month at the Ag Center, terming any tax increase as a failure of the county manager to properly manage the county, and a failure of the commissioners to oversee the work of the county manager.
Mr. Davis' criticism extended to a list of suggestions a group from the gated community had proposed to increase efficiency in county government, pointing out that they had been unanimously endorsed by county commissioners and they had not been acted upon by the county manager.
Specific raises given county employees last year were cited, and the two suggested the county had given out the increases without an appropriate review by the commissioners. Mr. Davis asked if the value of the benefits package had been considered.
Mr. Frey did thank the county manager for posting the budget online since the last meeting, but the two complained about a general lack of response to their critical comments aired during the public hearing. Mr. Frey suggested the county should put more emphasis on strategic planning.
Commissioners Chairman Kenn Thompson, who also resides in River Landing, acknowledged the suggestions of the River Landing residents, and suggested they had some good ideas, but he repeated the response of Commissioner Tim Smith from the last meeting, that the commissioners were making better financial decisions and stewardship of the county's money. He pointed out how the county had cut their reliance on the fund balance to balance the budget, and was rebuilding savings. He also contrasted Duplin with Sampson County, noting that their nearby neighbor and comparable county was proposing a 9¢ tax increase this year.
When the vote was called on the proposed budget, Chairman Thompson joined the lone Republican on the board, Harold Raynor, in voting against the budget. Commissioners Anita Powers and Frances Parks voted in favor, and Mr. Smith cast the deciding vote over the phone.
Ms. Powers responded after the vote that she had asked many questions and the county manager had made changes in the recommended budget after their questions and recommendations.
Mrs. Parks stated that the commissioners considered the decisions of spending the taxpayers' money like it was their own money.
Duplin County Republican Party Chairman Adrain Arnett began the meeting protesting the proposed dropping of mileage reimbursement for poll workers who worked out of their precinct of residence.
Chairman Thompson said the policy would be reviewed.

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