Last minute budget additions gain approval

Published 6:56 pm Sunday, June 28, 2015

WINTON – During her annual budget message made back in May, Hertford County Manager Loria Williams veered off her usual conservative track and proposed adding roughly $600,000 in new expenditures in the 2015-16 fiscal year budget.

That budget was approved here Thursday morning by the county Commissioners, exactly six days before it’s scheduled to take effect on July 1.

And the approved financial spreadsheet for the new fiscal year contains even more new spending than originally anticipated. However, the new expenditures do not impact the ad valorem tax rate, which remains at 84 cents (per $100 of property value).

The $25,925,114 budget is roughly $80,000 higher than what Williams originally proposed back in May. Those close to Hertford County local government expected that slight increase, especially after the county Commissioners were made aware at their June 15 meeting, where a public hearing was on the agenda for the 2015-16 budget, of a few last-minute budget requests.

The largest request came from Sheriff Juan Vaughan, who asked for pay hikes in the starting salaries for the detention officers at the jail.

“In order for the Sheriff’s request to fit within our (pay) scale, I have placed the annual starting salaries for the detention officers at the jail at $26,083, which is an increase over the current starting salary of $23,657,” Williams said.

Williams furthered explained that by raising the starting salaries for the newest detention officers, she made pay scale adjustments to the more seasoned officers at the jail, based on their years of tenure, with the exception of the jail captain and major. Those combined adjustments accounted for nearly one-half ($36,000) of the $80,000 worth of new expenditures.

“At the old starting salary, we were experiencing a great deal of difficulty in recruiting new detention officers,” Williams said. “Then there was a problem with turnover with those officers as they sought other jobs at higher salaries.”

Williams said there was no across the board salary increases within other departments of Hertford County local government.

“How will we handle that,” asked Commissioner Curtis Freeman.

“We discussed waiting to see where we are financially come audit time,” Williams answered. “We can certainly approve a pay increase in January.”

The only fee hike in the new budget is for solid waste (household trash). That annual fee was increased from $130 to $150 annually (per household).

Capital outlay to Hertford County Public Schools ($704,100) reflects the ongoing improvement project at Riverview Elementary in Murfreesboro.

“In our budget work session, we discussed additional capital improvement projects for our schools,” Williams said. “The schools requested approximately $1.1 million in capital outlay. We don’t have that right now in the fund, but, based on sales tax revenue projections, we will have that in the fund. The schools can bring back the capital improvement projects and we’ll discuss the funding of those projects on an individual basis.”

As far as the remaining new expenditures are concerned, Williams outlined those to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald after the close of Thursday’s meeting. Office equipment upgrades to the Office of Aging added $10,000; $8,500 of new money was approved to install a new roof to the Hertford-Northampton Smart Start Office in Murfreesboro; $6,500 was added to the county’s appropriation to the Murfreesboro Historical Association in an effort to assist with the restoration of the historic Walter Reed House; and $7,000 was needed to upgrade the salary of a courthouse bailiff to a full-fledged deputy sheriff. The other $12,000 will be used for miscellaneous upgrades.

Ad valorem taxes ($11.64 million), sales & use taxes ($3.61 million) and vehicle taxes ($1.85 million) account for the majority of the revenue fueling Hertford County’s local government budget for 2015-16.

Williams also used $1.376 million from the county’s General Fund Balance to balance out the revenue needed in the new budget.

Highlighted by a shade over $5 million for the Department of Social Services, Human Services claimed the lion’s share of the new budget as those departments – to include Aging, DOT, the library, the Health Department, and Mental Health – will receive a total of $6.56 million.

Led by $4.27 million in current expense funds (plus an additional $704,100 in capital outlay) to Hertford County Public Schools, Education will benefit from $6.13 million in expenditures in the new budget. That portion of the budget also earmarks $1.03 million for Roanoke-Chowan Community College, which includes $75,000 in capital outlay.

Public Safety will receive a shade over $6 million, highlighted by $1.95 million for the Sheriff’s Office, $1.81 million for the jail, and $1.1 million for Emergency Medical Services.

General Government – which includes the offices of Tax, Finance, Register of Deeds, Land Records, Board of Elections, Human Resources and Administration – was noted with $3.8 million in expenditures.

Back in May, Williams revealed $599,331 in new revenue to help account for the overall increase in spending for 2015-16. 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. She 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).

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.

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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