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Bertie budget approved

WINDSOR – The budget is official.

When Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb pitched his 2007-08 budget proposal to the county’s board of commissioners in early June, he was full of optimism about the upcoming fiscal year. Apparently, Lamb’s pleasurable thoughts about the county’s finances were contagious as the commissioners, at last Thursday’s meeting, approved the $19.3 million general fund budget.

As mentioned earlier in June, the 2007-08 Bertie budget is void of any tax increase as the ad valorem rate remains at 78 cents (per $100 of value). That rate ties Bertie with Northampton as the lowest tax rate in the Roanoke-Chowan area. It also marks the sixth straight year that Bertie has not raised property taxes.

Lamb also pointed out that the budget was balanced using no increases in any fees charged by the county.

What makes Lamb’s budget even more pleasing is the fact that the county will actually increase its spending over 2006-07 (where the county budget was $18.11 million).

“We’ve been able to do some things this year because of the growth we’re experiencing in Bertie County,” Lamb said. “The sales tax we receive back from the state plus the local option sales tax are on the rise. The host fees we receive from the regional landfill are increasing and, most importantly, ad valorem tax collections are up, both current and prior year.”

Bertie’s property tax collections are indeed on the rise. Since a 23-year low of 88.59 percent in 1999-2000, collections have now increased seven consecutive years. Lamb said that while the 2006-07 collection numbers have yet to be finalized, he was certain it would exceed 96 percent, up from last year’s record 95.11 percent.

The only unknown for Bertie’s 07-08 budget was the county’s share of the mandated Medicaid expense. While state lawmakers in Raleigh discuss plans on how to phase out the county’s share of this funding, Lamb said he had to carefully consider how much to budget for Medicaid. He informed the commissioners that the state estimates Bertie’s Medicaid share at $2.7 million during 2007-08. Meanwhile, the NC House of Representatives had approved a statewide plan that would lower each county’s payments. Lamb said the House plan would lower Bertie’s share “to the $1.3 million range.”

“Without the (North Carolina) Senate adopting the House plan, should we budget the full estimated amount or should we hope that the House plan would come through, putting our payment at roughly $1.3 million,” Lamb pondered.

The Bertie Manager opted to place the county’s Medicaid share in the middle ($2 million).

“Our fund balance is healthy enough to the point where if we have to make-up any difference (in Medicaid), we’ll be okay,” Lamb said.

Lamb went on to commend the commissioners for their involvement during the budget workshops that helped shape Bertie’s financial future.

Commissioner Wallace Perry asked the audience to make sure they heard the news there was no tax increase in the new budget.

“No tax increase for six straight years; I think we deserve a hand for that,” Perry said as the audience members applauded.

Bertie Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Harrell commended Lamb, County Finance Officer Lydia Hoggard and the entire staff for a job well done.

“You all make our jobs a lot easier,” Harrell said. “You do an excellent job of squeezing every dollar.”

Highlights of the budget include a two percent salary hike for all county employees and the largest increase (10.5 percent) in county history for Bertie Public Schools. The school system will receive $2.5 million in current expense funds, a hike of nearly a quarter of a million dollars over 2006-07. Additionally, the school system will receive $375,000 from the county in capital outlay funds.

The Bertie Sheriff’s Office will also see an increase of over $160,000. The now approved budget for the Sheriff is $1.68 million during 2007-08.

Human Services will receive $7.27 million. The lion’s share of that money ($6.29 million) is earmarked for the Department of Social Services.

The Cultural and Recreational budget nearly doubles, increasing to $605,153. Most of that money ($453,344, including a $250,000 matching grant for Phase II of the new Recreation Complex) goes to the Bertie Recreation Department.

Bertie Emergency Management, Litter Enforcement/Animal Control, the Domestic Violence Task Force and the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail also experienced slight increases in their operating budgets.

To help pay for these services, the county will bank on $8.17 million in ad valorem and motor vehicle taxes; $3.57 million in state sales tax and other taxes; $3.05 million in Social Services revenue; $1.72 million in user fees for the county’s water districts; $1.7 million in host landfill fees; and $797,993 from appropriated fund balance.