Penny saved; penny earned

Published 10:22 am Monday, June 20, 2016

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Commissioners will meet here Monday evening where they’re expected to vote on the recommended Fiscal-Year 2016-17 county budget.

And they’ll be bringing good news.

The first draft of the budget, presented to the Commissioners during its June 6 meeting, but since then has been amended through two budget workshops, was a statement of projected revenues and estimated expenditures for the General Fund totaling $22,649,936.

This represents an increase of nearly 4.2 percent over the adopted budget for the current year.

However, included in the budget proposal will be a reduction in the county’s current property tax rate from 84 to 83 cents per $100 of valuation.

Bertie County’s estimated tax base is $1.3 billion assessed value ($1.157 billion for real and personal property and public utilities, and $155,000,000 for motor vehicles), and the net yield for each one-cent on the current tax rate is $125,858.

County Manager Scott Sauer said the windfall that may have produced the tax revaluation is what the county is gaining from its own county-run Emergency Medical Services system.

According to Sauer, as the EMS system enters its third year of operation in 2017, the county will begin to receive federal Medicaid reimbursement funding.

“In the (EMS’) first year the county was reimbursed $35,000, without the Medicaid funds,” Sauer said. “In the county’s second year of operation, emergency and non-emergency, it will total some $400,000, including revenue. That has helped to reduce the Fund balance.”

Other budget highlights include the Bertie County Schools Current Expense Fund appropriation of $3.003,000 contained within the General Fund and paid in equal monthly installments annually.

As for Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA), the county’s first – and only – charter school, after a lengthy discussion during the budget workshop, the Commissioners came to a consensus to reject the Academy’s funding request due to statutory limitations explained by the County Attorney in a written report and forwarded in a letter to the charter school.

Dr. Kashi B. Hall, Executive Director of HCLA, is on the Board’s Monday night agenda to make another appeal for additional funding for the school in the 2016-17 budget.

After a review of wages for county staff positions in all county departments – from the highest to the lowest – made last year, the old budget recommended a supplemental 401(k) retirement contribution of two percent for all non-law enforcement personnel who receive a five percent supplemental 401(k) contribution as required by state law. The Commissioners further established an employee assistance program for employees and their families, and established a flexible spending account for out of pocket medical expenses with a $200 contribution for each employee.

The proposed 2016-2017 budget continues this effort, and funding is included to increase the contribution for 401(k) supplemental retirement to 2.5 percent beginning July 1, and continues the provision of a $200 contribution per employee for the flexible spending account to assist with the cost of meeting deductibles and prescription copayments.

The budget does say there are no new full time positions added for this year, and the only additional part-time position is for the senior nutrition site in Kelford.

In 2015-16, Bertie Commissioners hired a consulting firm (Springsted, Inc.) to review the county’s job classification and compensation for all positions within the county. This study and its recommendations were presented during the budget work session.

“Implementation of these recommendations in the next fiscal year, or phased in over a period of 28 years, will represent a significant investment in the county’s human resources and extend our ability to recruit and retain qualified staff,” Sauer maintains. “I am strongly recommending the Commissioners consider placing priority on two areas where the county has struggled with position turnover during the past several years—law enforcement and social services.”

Commissioners have been assisted in identifying funds to cover the cost of implementing law enforcement and social service upgrades. It’s noted that the county’s projected sales tax receipts have been held flat with no increase for the coming fiscal year.

The County Manager points to two critical ingredients to this discussion: the anticipated expansion of sales tax and the revised distribution formula approved by the General Assembly for the next fiscal year.

“Impact (of the sales tax distribution plan) for Bertie County has ranged from an increase of $500,000 per year to figures much higher,” Sauer said. “The Commissioners do have the flexibility to proceed cautiously, to examine the sales tax receipts in the first quarter or first half of 2017, and place priority on salary adjustments that may warrant immediate attention as needed.

Other budget highlights include continued emphasis on preventive maintenance and upkeep for various County facilities is reflected in the Public Buildings budget. The buildings and facilities have a proposed budget amount of almost $256,000 for capital improvements.

And, a long-term facility lease plan is being sought for the Blue Jay Recreation Community Association in western Bertie County. In addition to seeking grants for Blue Jay park improvements, Blue Jay will be receiving almost $83,500 for the first phase of upgrades at the facility, while new grant monies are being sought.

$2,821,400 in funding is proposed for all four districts of the county’s Regional Water system. This amount includes the water system’s recent increased customer base when South Windsor, Lewiston-Woodville and Roxobel’s systems were added to the county.

The county has found additional capital financing for three major water projects: $1,574,000 in grant funding and $4,234,900 in long term financing, less than half of which at zero interest.

“This budget plan attempts to meet the stated goals of the governing body, and provides flexibility for the discussion and changes that may be warranted based on the Board’s upcoming deliberations,” Sauer summarized. “First and foremost, this proposed budget does not contain a tax rate increase and the recommended appropriation of fund balance reserves is more than $100,000 less than the adopted budget ordinance for the current year.”

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 7 p.m. at the Monday Commissioners’ meeting (June 20) in Windsor where additional funding requests may be made before a final vote is taken on the budget’s adoption.