No tax increase for Bertie

Published 8:15 am Monday, June 30, 2014

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously here Thursday to approve a spending plan for next fiscal year totaling $31.6 million.

The new budget for the county goes into effect beginning July 1.

The General Fund budget for FY 2014-2015 is $19,829,419 with the tax rate unchanged at 84 cents.

The Commissioners spent many hours reviewing, discussing and questioning the proposed spending plan with the chief concern being limiting the impact on property owners and taxpayers, while balancing the many program initiatives proposed for next year, according to a news release.

The Commissioners took steps to defer some capital outlay expenditures, cut operating expenses, and limited the growth in county services to provide for only the most critical services.  These cuts totaled just over $600,000 and provided the budget reduction necessary to hold the tax rate at 84 cents.

The Commissioners also employed a measured use of appropriated fund balance reserves, limiting this amount to $574,527 which closely parallels the amount of growth in fund balance from the final 2013 budget.

Funding will be provided for an enhanced approach for the County’s economic development program with $103,467 made available as a strategic initiative fund in support of the Commissioners’ four business development platforms adopted early this year.  These areas include:

Agribusiness—with a focus on farm related enterprises.

Bio-Mass and Energy—with an initial focus on methane    gas electricity generation, wood residue and crop by-products as a fuel source.

Adventure Tourism—capitalizing on wildlife resources (hunting, fishing and bird watching), plus eco-tourism to include canoeing/kayaking, hiking trails, enhanced boating access, and harbor/marina facilities to support sailing regattas and competition.

Waterfront development to expand on the initial investment in housing, vacation properties, and “stay over” opportunities to support recreation and tourism.

In support of the enhanced approach for economic development, the Commissioners allotted a monthly retainer provision in the budget to secure grant writing and project development services to assist with maintaining momentum for each of these initiatives.

Prior to the final budget, the Commissioners spent a great deal of time listening to proposals and working to understand the needs of various agencies, and three priorities stood out:

First was the expanded support for the Sheriff’s night time patrol with the addition of four new deputy positions. The Commissioners also supported efforts to upgrade the computer software and hardware for the Sheriff’s 911 Communications Center, and provided capital outlay funding to replace six vehicles in the Sheriff’s Office.

Secondly, after a briefing from the Bertie County Schools Superintendent Elaine White, the Commissioners unanimously agreed to support the superintendent’s initiative to maximize the county’s use of state lottery funds (in excess of $500,000) to partially restore school capital outlay monies and set aside the remainder in the school capital reserve fund for future debt service payments.

The Commissioners also continue to work in support of the Board of Education’s effort to establish a new vehicle maintenance facility for school buses.

Funding for school operations, capital outlay and loan payments for the new high school and middle school remain the most significant budget priority for the county.

Thirdly, Commissioners discussed the role of nonprofit agencies and the importance of their positive impact for BertieCounty citizens.  Where possible, the Board worked to restore some or most of the cuts that these organizations experienced in prior year reductions in funding.

County Manager Scott Sauer said, “The Board recognizes the strong benefits afforded to county residents by the two community colleges that serve Bertie County, as demonstrated by the funding allocations for both institutions next year.  Likewise, the Commissioners struck a fiscal balance with organizations such as the regional library system, to secure cost sharing for a roof replacement project, in exchange for restoration of operating funds at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Windsor.  And funding for the Aulander branch library also remains intact for next year.”

And most importantly, as highlighted in the original proposed budget plan for FY 2014-2015, Sauer said the Commissioners continues to honor their commitment to ensure the highest level of emergency pre-hospital medical care through the County’s 911 Paramedic program.

In tandem with the 911 Paramedic program, beginning in the new budget year, Bertie County will offer Non-Emergency Transport Services (NETS) to all citizens seeking medical transport service between facilities.

The Commissioners also set aside funds to begin a multi-year effort to address Courthouse preventive maintenance needs and appearance issues, which will extend the facility’s life and improve its curb appeal in the downtown business district.  Funds are also budgeted in the special appropriations category to support cooperative programming efforts between the YMCA and the County’s Parks and Recreation Department.

In late 2013, the Commissioners engaged a new engineering firm to evaluate the County’s water utility system, seeking strategies to improve efficiency and to insure the County’s ability to serve its water customers for decades to come.  This effort continues with funding for tools and equipment to support the Water Department, and adjustments to the water rates to stabilize the system’s financial viability as the County protects its investment in this vital utility.

“Not every funding request was supported however, and difficult decisions had to be made in order to meet the most critical needs in the near term,” Sauer noted.  “Priorities then can be established to address future needs as funds are identified, and carefully planned for future budget proposals.”

Continuing with his insight the county manager expounded, “From management’s perspective, where the Board excelled the most, has been taking steps to protect our human capital—the long time County employees who have been loyal and hardworking stewards of the public’s trust.  This budget plan provides for recognition of employees who were hired before June 30, 2013 with a four percent (4%) market based adjustment in base salary.  This acknowledgement allows the Board to show gratitude and appreciation for the value that each employee brings to our organization.”

Sauer closed his assessment saying, “I am indebted to the governing body for its many hours in work sessions, establishing priorities and for creating a new vision for Bertie County.  And the citizens and taxpayers should be proud of their elected officials who took the proposed budget plan and made it their own.  The Board crafted a strategy to avoid a tax increase while preserving the integrity of the General Fund’s reserves.  And the Board went to many lengths, to listen, to deliberate, to ask questions and to examine the use of the public’s money to determine the most appropriate way to meet the needs of our citizens.”