No tax hike in Bertie

Published 9:05 am Thursday, June 4, 2009

WINDSOR – No increases.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb officially presented the 2009-10 budget during the regular meeting of the county commissioners Monday night. The proposed budget included no property tax increase and there were no hikes in any fees set by the county.

“This represents the eighth consecutive year that the tax rate, water rates and inspection fees have not increased,” Lamb said.

The $29.45 million budget is based on a property tax rate of .78 per $100 valuation and will include cuts in every department except schools, the sheriff’s office, jail, elections and emergency services.

The total valuation of the county is now $1.095 billion with the county estimating a tax collection rate of 95 percent which would result in a collection of just under $8 million in ad valorem tax revenues. In addition, the budget anticipates collecting $166,500 in previous year real property taxes and $135,500 in motor vehicle taxes as well as $110,000 in penalties and interest.

As for expenditures, the only area of significant change came in public education. Bertie County plans to appropriate $2,887,500 to Bertie County Schools. That number is $137,500 (or five percent) more than last year.

“In each of the previous three budgets, the Commissioners have provided an unprecedented 10 percent increase in current expense funding (for the schools),” Lamb said. “Many counties have been forced to reduce the current year allocations to public education and are making reductions in next year’s funding.

“This year, understanding the tough economic conditions facing county government, the Bertie County Board of Education prudently requested no increase in funding,” he added.

While the school board did not request an increase, Lamb said the Board of Commissioners felt strongly they needed to continue their support of public education.

“After much deliberation, recognizing the pressures on the Bertie County school system from Judge (Howard) Manning and the state of North Carolina, the county commissioners decided unanimously to increase the current expense budget by five percent,” Lamb said. “With the recent action by Judge Manning concerning Halifax County Schools, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners want to send a clear signal to the citizens of Bertie County, the state and Judge Manning that the commissioners are committed to improvements in the public education system, through increased funding and support, despite the economic downturn facing the county, state and nation.”

The only other department receiving a slight increase is the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office which is slated to receive $1.64 million, up approximately $10,000 from last year.

The appropriation to Bertie-Martin Regional Jail will increase to $753,760 in the next budget year, a hike of more than $17,000.

Also, there will be an increase in the budget for the Bertie County Board of Elections due to the possibility of three elections next year. That budget will increase to $105,799.

Appropriations to both the community colleges and emergency services will remain unchanged from last year. According to the proposed budget, Martin Community College will receive $60,000 while Roanoke-Chowan Community College will receive $35,000.

As for emergency services, the budget maintains the current level of funding for the four county rescue squads and all 12 fire departments. It also maintains the matching funds for equipment and capital needs which is allotted to fire departments on an every other year basis.

Other allotments include: Recreation ($162,619), Public Health ($187,500), Animal Control ($72,553) and Council on Aging ($364,532).

Social Services will see a significant decrease in their funding due to the shift of Medicaid to a state cost and savings in the elimination of five jobs in the department.

Social Services Director Morris Rascoe has eliminated five positions in the department through retirements or resignations. He restructured the department to allow for those jobs to be handled by existing personnel.

That leaves DSS with a decrease in county funds to $1.4 million which is down from $2.7 million in the current fiscal year budget.

The county budget does not include a salary increase and does eliminate nine positions that were in last year’s budget. None of those nine positions are filled, however,

“Unlike many other counties, the budget neither eliminates currently filled positions, nor does this budget cut salaries, require unpaid furloughs, suspend longevity pay or reduce any other benefit currently provided to county employees,” Lamb said.

The budget includes an appropriation of just over $600,000 from the fund balance, down from the $900,000 appropriated last year.

“I think we have conservative revenue estimates,” Lamb said. “If things stay the same or improve, we’ll be okay. If it gets worse, it could be a problem.”

Lamb also said he appreciated the stewardship of the commissioners over the years in helping build a solid fund balance which left the county able to have a budget with no tax increase.

“Because of your stewardship, my job is easier than many county managers,” Lamb told the board. “We have a healthy fund balance and that makes my job much easier.”

After the presentation, Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr. commended Lamb and the rest of the county staff for working so diligently to balance the budget.

“I believe when we first started talking about the budget, Commissioner (Rick) Harrell outlined two things we wanted,” Cherry said. “First, we wanted a budget with no increase and second we wanted no changes in services for the citizens and you did that. Thank you and the staff.”

Commissioner Harrell and Commissioner J. Wallace Perry also offered their appreciation for a job well done.

The public hearing for the 2009-10 budget is set for 7 p.m. Monday, June 15 in the commissioners’ room.