Losses outnumber budget gains

Published 10:23 am Thursday, May 9, 2013

WINTON – The good news is that thanks to slight growth in property values, Hertford County local government will have nearly 250,000 additional dollars for operational use in 2013-14.

The bad news is that thanks to increased insurance costs ($148,000), contributions to employees’ retirement ($50,000) and a healthy rise ($13,811 to $100,000) in unemployment insurance, that quarter-million dollar gain is erased.

However, the key number that Hertford County citizens want to know is the tax rate for the next fiscal year. They can rest easy, at least for the time being until the commissioners go over next year’s budget numbers line by line, as property taxes are projected to remain at 84 cents (per $100 of valuation).

That’s the word from Hertford County Manager Loria Williams, who presented her FY 2013-14 budget message here Monday morning during the regularly scheduled meeting of the commissioners.

Her proposal reflects a General Fund budget of $23.14 million. To balance the revenues vs. expenditures, Williams said she plans to use $1.17 million of appropriated fund balance. That figure represents five percent of the operational budget.

“Our fund balance, even though it has absorbed some added expenditures over the past few years, remains in good shape,” Williams said. “We still have 20 percent of our operational costs in that fund. While that’s down from the 30 percent we had there at one time, it remains far above the eight percent that the state recommends we have.”

Williams said that outside agencies (public schools, health department and the community college) requested an additional $797,088 in funding over current year levels. That, she said, would add five cents to the tax rate if those requests were granted.

“This budget funds those agencies at level funding; they’re not losing anything, but there will be no added funds for FY 2013-14,” Williams said.

She noted that the county’s department heads requested an additional $998,915 (seven cents on the tax rate) in funding.

“For the most part, departments were held to level funding as well,” Williams stressed. “If the funding increases requested by outside agencies and the department heads were all granted, the tax rate would be 96 cents.”

The proposed budget does not provide for a cost of living adjustment for county employees. However, it does fully fund employee health benefits and longevity.

“This entire effort was done to keep the tax rate the same and to hold the fund balance at a 20 percent level,” Williams said. “The LGC requires a minimum unreserved general fund balance of eight percent. It is further recommended for counties within our population group to maintain between 15 and 25 percent.”

Factors driving some of the budget expenditures include a slight decrease in General Government spending due to a the completion of capital projects (non-recurring) this fiscal year and earmarked sales tax revenues in the amount of $100,000 diverted to the capital reserve fund. There is also a projected reduction in Human Services due to federal cuts in the SSBG Block Grant. Education also faces a planned reduction. Williams said that is because capital outlay to

schools is being appropriated on a project by project basis; budget will be amended to reflect that allocation upon the commissioners approving her FY 2013-14 finances. Public Safety will note a slight increase due to workers’ compensation and general liability insurances.

Addressing the capital project (the new courthouse and county administrative building) currently underway, Williams said her budget proposal takes that into consideration.

“This budget follows the debt affordability analysis by setting aside the quarter-cent sales tax, as well as an additional 15 percent of the one cent sales tax in a capital reserve fund for debt payments due to start this fiscal year,” she noted.

There are no projected increases to the county’s Solid Waste fee or to the customers of the Northern and Southern Rural Water Districts. Those rates are currently $115 per household for Solid Waste disposal and a $25 flat fee (for the first 2,000 gallons) for the water customers.

The commissioners have scheduled a budget work session for May 14. A public hearing on the budget will be conducted at a later date as the document must be approved prior to the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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