Tax hike proposed

Published 10:06 am Thursday, June 5, 2014

WINDSOR – Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer presented the county’s proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2014-15 to the County Commissioners at their Monday meeting, one containing a proposed 20 cent tax hike.

In his budget message the county manager called the county’s fiscal challenges in the coming years akin to those in 2013-14.

The proposed FY 2014-15 budget plan for the General Fund and all other operating funds will total $31,560,907.

The proposed General Fund budget plan for the coming fiscal year totals $20,386,617, an increase of $2,533,449, or 14 percent above the current year’s budget.  With an estimated tax base of $1,211,701,269 and one penny on the tax rate projected to yield $115,111 at a 95 percent tax collection rate; then the proposed tax rate would increase to 20 cents above the current rate of $0.84 per $100 of assessed value.

But before any of this is approved there’s still much work to be done.

Representatives for many of the county’s service departments were on hand for the meeting and the presentation.

Sauer’s good news was that there would be no fund balance appropriation recommended for this fiscal year because last year’s budget was adopted with the use of $500,000 in reserves, but that figure has now swelled to $1,488,554 in reserves.

The county manager’s message further stated that the June 2013 county fund balance was $7,048,167, a very, very healthy number.  That amount represents a net increase of $535,628 compared to the appropriated fund balance of $1,090,055, and thus signaled a positive result for the county’s taxpayers.

“Many of the budget recommendations are management’s attempt to address imperative items such as critical technology upgrades, infrastructure preservation, and risk management,” Sauer said in his summary.

The biggest hit to the Bertie County’s budget of a year ago were the challenges brought on by the county’s private paramedic contractor (First Med) filing for bankruptcy in December.  Because of the swift decisive action by the county commissioners, approving a State of Emergency and other documents, including making $1.2 million available, there was no lapse in EMS service.

For the 2014-15 budget, Sauer says the county’s emergency services will begin non-emergency transport in addition to current Paramedic transport and that funding for both EMS transport and non-emergency transport service will be $2,682,550, but off-set by anticipated revenues of $2,594,571 for both, meaning a net cost of $87,979 to the General Fund.

The Bertie County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) would receive a proposed increase of 24 percent over the current budget and includes four additional road patrol deputies and six replacement vehicles.  There were also increases recommended for the BCSO Communications Division and for Animal Control.

The debt service for the county will total $2,345,537 or 20.4 cents on the tax rate; most of it for the schools, absorption of EMS-Paramedic, the county Health Department, and the Department of Social Services.

The Board of Education funding request is $3,526,976, or 30.6 cents on the tax rate; an increase of 22.5 percent over FY 2013-14.  Sauer did point out that the BOE’s General Fund did gain nearly a half-million dollars in balance reserves after the last fiscal year; and that the school current expense request had not risen but remained at $2,503,000.  Total sum of local support for all school funding would total $4,609,788, or 40 cents on the tax rate.

There are also requests to increase funding for both Community Colleges that serve the county (Martin: $73,206 and Roanoke-Chowan: $35,000).  The increase to RCCC in recognition of the support and training associated with the paramedic initiative.

Other proposals to the new budget include:

–       $1,674,752 for Human Service agencies: Public Health, Mental Health, DSS, and Veterans Services.

–       An increase of $101,380 for the Board of Elections; $75,000 in voting machine replacement.

–       $671,291 for the county Tax Office, a portion of which would go towards replacement of the 22-year-old computer server.

–       $930,673 for the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail.

–       A 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for county employees, or a one-time flat bonus; and 100 percent employee/retiree health insurance coverage.

–       A Maintenance Department budget of $554,370 which includes building renovations, repairs, and maintenance projects.

“Thanks to the legacy of conservative leadership in Bertie County, this organization’s financial condition is very strong from a fund balance perspective,” Sauer’s summary said.

“The county department heads are very frugal with the taxpayers’ dollars, and I am indebted to them for their diligence and ingenuity,” the county manager’s summary concluded.

The commissioner’s agreed to schedule work days to go over the budget beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday, June 9 with a public hearing slated for a week later – June 16 – at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ room.