GC Commissioners receive budget proposal

Published 8:40 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

GATESVILLE – While many counties across the state are forecasting financial gloom, some eying drastic tax hikes to offset a growing deficit, Gates County’s coffers appear to be in good shape.

That fact was evident here Tuesday morning where County Manager Toby Chappell presented the 2010-11 budget proposal to the Gates County Board of Commissioners.

The 25-page document – one which totals $12.125 million – was accepted for review by the board. The commissioners will now study those financial numbers in advance of budget workshops scheduled for June 11 and June 18. Four days later (June 22), the commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the budget after which time they can adopt the new revenue/expenditures plan which takes effect on July 1.

Two key elements to Chappell’s proposal is that the new budget maintains the current property tax rate (64 cents per $100 of valuation) and does not use a single penny of the county’s unallocated fund balance as a means to balance the 2010-11 operating budget.

“I’m glad we’re in good enough shape that we do not have to have a tax increase this year,” Commissioner Wade Askew noted.

“We didn’t reach this point by pure chance,” said Commission Vice-Chairman Kenneth Jernigan. “I think it’s great that Gates County is in the shape it’s in as far as not having to cut a lot of programs like other counties are having to do. We’ve worked at this for several years. That work is now paying off.”

“We can now start absorbing this and asked questions,” said Board Chairman Graham Twine. “All we’ve done today is accept this proposal. We still have these two workshops to go through where we’ll discuss this proposal.”

Chappell pointed out four highlights in the proposed budget, each requested by the commissioners during their initial round of workshops leading up to the June 1 release of the financial plan.

Included among those highlights are a two percent cost of living adjustment for county employees (effective July 1) as well as those employees being eligible for up to a two percent merit based pay increase on the anniversary of their date of hire.

Other requests made by the commissioners that showed up in the budget proposal were appropriating funds to hire a part-time code enforcement officer; moving forward with a program that will rid the county of dilapidated/hazardous structures; and launch the evaluation process of what the best course of action will be regarding the old Sunbury School.

The proposed $12,125,209 budget reflects all funds, including a combined $1,618,438 for the operation of the county’s water, sewer and solid waste departments.

Of the total budget, $10,045, 230 is proposed to operate the General Fund. That amount is slightly higher than the current operational funding ($9,706,802). A portion of that increase can be traced to higher premiums for employee health insurance plus a hike in employee retirement.

Scheduled to receive the largest shares of the General Fund are Gates County Schools ($2,567,079 plus another $100,000 in capital outlay), Social Services ($1,138,786), Sheriff’s Office ($806,039 plus $275,000 for jail services), GITS ($518,092), Child Day Care ($387,901), Buildings and Grounds ($332,736), Administration ($279,691), Tax Department ($248,179) and Community Center/Recreation ($226,352). There is also $1,311,052 in debt service included in the General Fund budget.

On the other side of the financial spreadsheet are the revenues it takes to fund the budget. As is the case throughout North Carolina, those owning real property pay the lion’s share of the revenue. In the case of Gates County’s taxpayers, $5,604,060 is budgeted to be received by way of ad valorem taxes. Other major sources of revenue include a combined $1,130,000 in state sales tax returned to the county, $1,847,090 in grants and reimbursements and $535,000 in Medicaid “hold harmless” funds.

Despite the slight increase in the proposed General Fund, Chappell said the budget remains “lean.”

“Budget projections for our county look better than others and that should be considered a glimmer of hope that the worst of the economic downturn is behind us,” Chappell stated. “But this is another lean budget; most departments have seen cuts from what they requested.”

Moving forward, Chappell said it was the number one goal of the county’s leaders to continue to actively seek out economic development opportunities, thus expanding the local tax base that helps shift some of the property tax burden away from the citizens.

“I’d like to thank our finance department and the clerk to this board for the hard work they’ve done in this budget proposal,” Chappell concluded. “It’s been a difficult year and a lot of exemplary work was done.”