City/county funding quarrel attracting candidates’ attention
A quarrel between local officials over the funding of a joint warrant-control program and the City/County Planning Department also seems like an issue among the candidates running for mayor and City Council.
Most say the dispute shows the council and the County Commissioners need to do a better job of working together.
“I’m the kind of person where I want to talk about it, I want to compromise it, I don’t want to have it be an adversarial situation,” Pam Karriker, who’s running for the council’s Ward 3 seat, said during a recent candidates forum.
She and the other candidates were asked what city officials should do about the $84,758 cut to the Planning Department commissioners ordered this spring as retaliation for the council’s ending support for a joint warrant-control program based in the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
Commissioners used the money to fill the hole in the warrant program’s budget.
Their decision has forced Planning Director Steve Medlin to freeze a vacant development-review position and warn a person still on staff that he or she could be laid off later in fiscal 2013-14.
Mayor Bill Bell, offering the most direct answer to the question, said he’d vote for the city to use its own money to replace the $84,758 commissioners removed from Medlin’s budget.
“I’m going to support additional funds, if that’s what it takes,” he said.
He and Councilman Don Moffitt also defended the council’s decision to withdraw from the warrant program, Moffitt arguing that there was little in it anymore to help city police.
“The Police Department said this does not have an impact except for one thing, printing out warrants,” converting them from digital to hard-copy form, Moffitt said. “It was the right decision.”
Moffitt added that he’d talked with both police and sheriff’s officials before deciding to support ending city support for warrant control. He conceded, though, that the council had erred by not giving commissioners more warning.
Ward 2 candidate Omar Beasley, a bail bondsman, said the council made “a bad decision” when it cut warrant control because the joint program reduces officers’ workload.
It got under way in 2009, with clerks assigned to digitize old, paper warrants and act as a one-stop shop for cops and deputies needing to check up on who’s wanted. But police have said a relatively new statewide database, N.C. Aware, now meets most of their warrant-checking needs.
The other Ward 2 candidate, Eddie Davis, joined Karriker in urging a “conciliatory response.” He added that warrant control and Planning each merit full funding.
“It’s unfortunate when you get to a point where there can be punishment or retaliation given, because both of those programs are very much needed,” Davis said.
Mayoral challenger Sylvester Williams likewise favored compromise. “My whole life as a pastor is about bringing opposing parties together and being able to reason together,” he said.
Karriker, a former appointive county commissioner, said she can see why both governments acted as they did. Unlike Bell, she voiced little interest in making up the cut, saying Medlin “can prioritize” within what’s “a very large budget” compared to what neighboring cities spend on planning.
City/County Planning operates on about $3 million annually. As a joint department, it’s not particularly comparable to unmerged city, town or county planning operations in Wake and Orange counties.
The city of Durham is also much larger than most Triangle cities and towns, while also being much smaller than Raleigh, the state capital.
Two North Carolina communities Durham officials consider peers, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, do have a merged planning department that operates on about $2.5 million a year.
Budget documents indicate Durham’s Planning Department obtains about $982,000 of its funding from permit-review fees, leaving the city and county each to chip in about $1 million in local and state-shared tax revenue.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth department counts on receiving only about $122,800 in fees, leaving those governments to contribute $1.2 million, each, in tax revenue.