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HC Manager proposes spending more money

WINTON – Sitting on a healthy fund balance – now at an all-time high – coupled with financial savings on several fronts has prompted Loria Williams to veer off her normal course of fiscal conservatism.

On Monday, the Hertford County Manager presented the public with the first sneak peek at her recommended 2015-16 fiscal year budget….one that increases spending by $600,000 over the 2014-15 financial spreadsheet, but still maintains the current 84-cent tax rate.

“This particular budget is unlike past ones I have presented,” said Williams at the outset of presenting her $25.84 million proposal to the Commissioners. “In the past I have presented very, very lean, fiscally conservative budgets that have allowed us to be in the financial shape we’re in right now. However, there comes a time when investments need to be made in the workforce and that time is upon us.”

Those investments, Williams said, involve general operations (to include increased operations at the new Courthouse and Government Center), personnel, the next generation of E-911 response, and capital projects, to include long overdue renovations at Riverview Elementary School.

“We have a lot of good things taking place in Hertford County, and the time is right to take care of our personnel needs,” she said. “The economic downturn of the past few years left me being ultra conservative on meeting the needs of our personnel. Those needs are real and need to be addressed.”

Within her $25.84 million budget proposal, Williams recommended a 10 percent increase in General Government spending; 22 percent for education (most of that targeting the Riverview project); and four percent for Public Safety. There was also a $100,000 increase for Roanoke-Chowan Community College to assist in the continuation of their comprehensive physical plant improvement plan. Those proposed increases total $586,404.

To account for that extra spending, Williams revealed $599,331 in new revenue. She said the lion’s share ($379,508) of that new money comes by way of the county shopping for a new health insurance provider. Williams added that another $115,349 will be added to the county’s coffers due to a slight increase in property value (up to $1.54 billion compared to the current value of $1.53 billion), a projected increase in state/local sales taxes pocketed by the county ($80,000); and a savings of $24,474 in the funds contributed by the county to the retirement plan of its employees (due to a slight deduction in the contribution rate).

Her budget plan does include a $1.32 million transfusion from the county’s appropriated fund balance. However, she said despite spending over $1.6 million over the past three fiscal years to cover several capital projects, the fund balance remains at a healthy 36 percent (of the general fund). That is far above the 15-to-20 percent recommended by the Local Government Commission for counties the size of Hertford.

“The fact of the matter is that I’m proposing putting roughly $586,000 in recurring expenses and the offsetting revenue is a one-time, non-recurring thing,” Williams stressed. “We are making an investment in our physical plant, and in our people – our workforce – and this year I’m handling it with non-recurring revenue. Next year will be different, but I feel this investment needs to be made. This investment will provide better services to the citizens of Hertford County.”

The only increase impacting county citizens will come in solid waste. Williams noted that department remains operating in the red. She recommended a $20 annual increase per household in the solid waste fee (from $130 to $150).

“Even at $150, we’re still below every county around us,” Williams noted.

Williams added that the county’s Northern and Southern Rural Waters Districts are on solid financial footing and no increases in user fees are necessary.

The Commissioners have scheduled several upcoming workshops to go over Williams’ proposed budget. The 2015-16 budget is required to be adopted no later than June 30. The new fiscal year begins 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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