HC faces declining revenues

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 7, 2007

WINTON – To call Hertford County Manger Loria D. Williams’ task arduous may have been an understatement.

Due to declining revenues, Williams presented a budget Monday morning that calls for less expenditures next year than there are in the current budget.

During Monday morning’s regular meeting of the Hertford County Commissioners, Williams presented her annual budget message, calling for no tax increase and an overall reduction in spending for Fiscal Year 2007-2008.

“This has truly been a difficult year with trying to balance the budget,” Williams told the board. “I want to emphasize this is truly a working document. It always is, but maybe even more so this year.”

The challenges of the budget, she said, were to reduce the trend of expenditures outpacing revenue, continue to fund all state and federal mandates and hold the tax rate.

Williams said she asked all department heads in the county to present a budget with a two percent across the board reduction in addition to their recommended budgets.

“This was done in an effort to offset sluggish revenues, job classification pay increases as well as routine increases in expenditures such as insurance, fuel, contracted services, etc.,” Williams said.

She also indicated revenues were projected as conservatively as possible in an effort to help the county stop spending more than they took in, subsequently absorbing a good share of the annual growth of tax base.

The presented budget reflects a general fund budget of $22.5 million, representing nearly a two and a half percent reduction from the current operating budget including amendments. The tax rate would remain at .91 per $100 valuation.

The budget reduces spending at a two percent rate in county departments and keeps all outside agencies at 2006-07 appropriations.

“The budget does not provide an increase in areas where we know there is a need,” Williams informed commissioners.

Those areas include education, health and non-profit entities.

The Hertford County Board of Education requested an increase of $485,000 in current expense funding. That would equate to 4.5 cents on the tax rate.

Over the past four budget years, the appropriation to the Hertford County Public Schools has increased each year. It has risen from $2.8 million in FY ’03-’04 to $3.75 million last year. In those years, the budget has increased 3.5 percent, 10.3 percent, 9.3 percent and 6.5 percent.

In the corresponding years the Average Daily Membership (ADM) of the school district has decreased from 3,844 to 3,534 with a drop to 3,437 projected for next year.

Roanoke Chowan Community College requested an 11 percent increase over last year’s funding to $764,000.

One of few areas of increase in the budget will be the implementation of the Job Classification and Pay Study. The study, recommended by Williams, showed that roughly 60 percent of the county’s employees are below the minimum pay grade of those same jobs in Bertie, Northampton, Martin and Halifax counties.

The budget includes a provision to move 118 employees to the minimum of the new salary grade and apply the following adjustment to all 195 employees at an estimated cost of $250,000: less than one year n 1.0 percent; one to three years 1.5 percent; 4-10 years n 2.0 percent; 11-20 years n 2.5 percent; and 20-plus years n 3.0 percent.

Williams said while the pay upgrade for county employees has been included in the budget, it would be at the discretion of the board to make the decision to implement the pay study in July of this year or January of 2008.

Williams also informed the board there was no recommended fee increases for solid waste or county water. She said there would be a recommended time adjustment for services provided at the main collection site for solid waste.

The county manager said there would be many groups and agencies that wanted to talk to the board during their upcoming work sessions.

Commissioner Dupont A. Davis said, “There are only two ways to do more. We can either go into fund balance or raise taxes. There are no other ways.”

Williams said there were those who had already expressed concerns.

“The superintendent (Dr. Michael Basham) has grave concerns,” Williams said. “I’ve been as candid with outside agencies as possible.”

Board members expressed a desire to begin the budget work sessions as soon as possible, maybe even as early as next week. Williams said she would work on a calendar and get those meetings scheduled.