Proposed budget has no tax hike

Published 7:24 am Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WINTON – The proposed budget under consideration by the Hertford County Board of Commissioners will contain no tax increase for county residents.

That seems to be the word from Hertford County Manager Loria Williams, in her budget presentation for Fiscal Year 2014-15. The budget is on display online at the county website and will be voted on by the commissioners on June 26.

The estimated taxable value for 14-15 is $1.5 billion and at 84 cents (per $100 of valuation)

Williams’ proposal reflects a General Fund budget of $24.72 million (up from $23.14 million in 2013-14). To balance the revenues vs. expenditures, Williams said she plans to use $1.67 million of appropriated fund balance. That figure represents seven percent of the operational budget.

According to the budget message, outside agencies (public schools, health department, Roanoke-Chowan Community College) requested an unprecedented amount of expansion funding of $802,100 and county department heads requested an additional $872,791 in funding, with both groups held to level funding.

The budget also includes an across the board cost-of-living adjustment for county employees of 3 percent.

The message further says the budget reflects a less than one percent increase over the 13-14 budget, and follows the debit affordability analysis by setting aside the one/fourth cents sales tax as well as an additional 15 percent of the one cent sales tax in a capital reserve funds for debt payments due to begin with the 14-15 fiscal year.

Non-profit and community bases organizations’ funding has been held to the previous year’s allocations.

Dr. Michael Perry, Hertford County Superintendent of Public Schools, opened the Public Hearing on the budget with an appeal for an additional funding for the county’s public schools from the proposed $4.27 million; maintaining that what’s in his request for an additional $400,000 to the school budget does not contain new spending. The superintendent said the current budget is the same one presented 10 years ago.  It contains ‘bacon, eggs, and grits’, or what Perry deemed basics.

“The problem is that the cost of bacon, eggs, and grits is not the same cost from 10 years ago,” Perry claimed. “The problem is that instead of books, we purchase technology software…instead of pencils we purchase technology hardware…instead of equipment that comes from trees, the equipment is now hardwired.”

“With these changes in our basics, Perry maintained, “cost has gone up.  The budget that was presented to you from Hertford County Public Schools is not a budget that contains new spending; it only contains basic elements whose prices have increased.”

Perry cited several initiatives HCPS are doing to bring down costs including:

–       A GPS system for buses to reduce transportation costs;

–       Grade level organizational considerations;

–       Addressing the schools’ EC population;

–       Addressing administrative allotments; and

–       Enrollment in the AESOP plan to bring health care costs down.

At this juncture, Perry says, it is unreasonable to expect the county School Board to deplete their fund balance when competing budgets put forth by the General Assembly have already earmarked that school systems will have to pay for several unfunded mandates.

“I have always been taught to live within your means,” the superintendent stated. “But I also know that if your base pay does not increase during inflationary times, you will have to cut out necessities or get assistance.”

Perry said he feared larger class sizes and cuts in support staff in crucial roles such as nurses, social workers, teaching assistants and counselors: roles critical in counties that are economically distressed.

“Costs will go down,” Perry concluded. “This is what we are facing.”

The Commissioners received a compliment from Stuart Pierce of Stuart Pierce Farms during his public hearing remarks.

“I think you’ve all done a great job of holding the line; you and everyone in your organization,” Pierce said. “I hope you can continue the path you took from five or six years ago when you said you were going to work this thing down.  We’re all in this together, so keep up the good work; don’t let it slip away.”

In accepting the comments, Commissioner Curtis Freeman touched on a bit of nostalgia.

“Not excluding the others, but speaking for Johnnie (Commissioner Farmer) and myself were up here when it (the tax rate) was $1.56,” said Freeman.

“Let’s make sure we’re using state funds to full advantage before we put anything else on the Hertford County taxpayer,” said Jimmy Askew.