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Proposed Bertie budget presented

WINDSOR – Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer presented the county’s proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2015-16 to the County Commissioners at their June 1 meeting and he “cut straight to the chase” in his opening remarks – and it was with good news.

“In an attempt to meet your goals, the needs of our citizens, and using the county’s resources in a prudent manner, the proposed budget is balanced without raising property taxes,” Sauer announced.  “It includes a conservative and measured use of available fund balance reserves.”

Bertie’s current ad valorem tax rate is 84 cents per $100.

The current 2014-15 budget is $19,820,419.   The proposed budget for 2015-16 is $20,869,668. The increase of $1,040,246, or 5.2 percent, is primarily for the debt service funded with annual lease payments from Vidant Bertie Hospital. Hospital financing is included in the budget ordinance for the upcoming year for the first time in the amount of $826,651.

“I’m hoping the Board will give serious consideration to investing in our human capital,” Sauer implored.

Among the actions that have kept the tax rate in check were the lease fees for the county landfill, which Sauer said will keep 13 cents off the county tax rate for next year.

While acknowledging that every budget has certain requests that aren’t recommended and won’t be met, Sauer did cautioned that proposed financial solutions for this year’s request would have required a tax increase of 16 cents.

Recommended in the new budget are eight new county employment positions:

Five county Department of Social Services-Income Maintenance positions taking effect January 2016 to meet expanded caseloads;

One maintenance worker for public buildings;

One custodian for public buildings; and

One water field technician, with funding there coming from the county’s Enterprise Fund.

The County Manager also proposed an additional $126,654 in local funds be budgeted for establishing a two percent 401k supplemental retirement contribution as well as three percent across the board adjustment for all non-public safety personnel. Also included is a proposal to establish a working wage for custodial and maintenance staff, the first adjustment coming on July 1, and addressing the internal pay equity and salary compression for long-term employees; for mission-critical positions, salaries should be commensurate with assigned responsibilities and tasks performed by key staffers.  However, he feels more pay and classification study and recommendations are warranted.

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

Sauer says the county’s EMS Paramedic and Non-Emergency Transport (NET) services complement each other. He adds since the Paramedic program was established in late 2013 and NET in summer 2014, the two met their projection in the 13-14 budget, will meet it in this year’s budget and over a five-year projection the net tax support will decrease.

“We’re still coming out ahead by $800,000, because if you take the average between the two, we’d have paid out $5.7 million and they (the now defunct First Med) get to keep all the revenue,” he said. “Our effort is to try to bring you the highest quality service, keep the benchmarks 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the lowest possible price.”

Sauer said over the most recently audited year, the county finished with a surplus of $650,000 in the EMS-P and NET programs and that about $690,000 was spent.

“That’s a heckuva swing,” he said. “It’s not just good luck; it’s a careful scrutiny on the revenue and on the expenses.”

Sauer said the listing of business personal property will bring in new revenues of a 5.39 percent growth in the tax base.

“Based on our current collection rate, a penny next year should bring about $124,000 for the Board to work with,” he said. “The good news in all this is we’re still growing the Fund Balance.”

Commissioner John Trent interjected a special thanks to Republic Services with $1.6 million coming from them a significant portion can go to the county’s YMCA and to the schools.  He further complimented County Maintenance Director Anthony Rascoe for his negotiation of maintenance contracts for the county.

“Congratulations, sir, on getting the job done this year,” Trent said.

Back to the proposal, and Sauer said the recommended budget has a Fund Balance appropriation of about $1.5 million.

“A million of it is necessary to support the operation of the Paramedic program with a little bit of help from Non-Emergency, and we hope that little bit will just grow and grow,” he said. “The remaining half-million is a little bit less than what was put in for this current year.”

Education spending in the budget includes Bertie Schools, Martin and Roanoke-Chowan Community Colleges and both the Regional Library and the Aulander Library.

Public safety in the budget proposes the largest amounts were: $2.5 million for the Sheriff’s Office and a near-similar amount for EMS-P and NET.  Under Human Services a proposal of $1.4 million was for DSS.

“Solid waste is down,” he noted, “because of your new contract.”

Sauer closed the proposal presentation by making an appeal for voter approval of passage of the one-quarter per cent local option sales tax.

“$160,000 is a fairly conservative estimate of what that would bring, and that would be recurring and it would hopefully grow,” he said.

The Commissioners held a work session on Monday, June 8, and a public hearing is set for the Commissioner’s Room at 7 p.m. on Monday June 15.