Two years running

Published 10:33 am Thursday, June 1, 2017

WINDSOR – Bertie County residents could be receiving a second straight year of good news on their county property taxes.

But it must be stressed: “could be”.

That’s because there are still several more layers and ideas to be proposed, explored, explained, debated, and finally resolved before the county’s 2017-18 budget goes into effect.

Earlier this week, Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer released a preliminary copy of the budget proposal he will make before the County Commissioners at their June meeting next week. He addressed some of the challenges the county and county government have faced in the past FY (fiscal year) 2016-17.

“Since late September, the Commissioners have spent countless hours seeking disaster recovery funding from state and federal legislators as we plan to rebuild facilities and plan for future flood events,” Sauer said. “Bertie County families, businesses and entire neighborhoods were devastated with two flood events in September and October of 2016. This difficult work will continue for the next two to three years, and I am grateful for our commitment to seek grants and utilize resources from across the state.

“For county services, our staff have responded with courage and fortitude when faced with these challenges including the loss of the public library, the cooperative extension building, and the county’s primary ambulance base (EMS Station-1) in Windsor,” he continued. “Many new projects, programs and initiatives planned for the county have been deferred as we re-focus our attention to the painstaking process of recovery, hazard mitigation, and resiliency community planning.”

Sauer is proposing a one-half cent tax rate reduction from 83 cents on the dollar in 2016-17 to a FY 2017-18 tax rate of 82.5 cents.

The budget proposal for the county shows a General Fund of $23,745,649 which is an increase of $299,566 or 1.2 percent above the current year budget as amended. By comparison, the proposed budget for FY 2017-18 reflects an increase from the adopted budget ordinance for FY 2016-17 of 4.82 percent or $1,093,234.

Sauer said the County Tax Administrator has estimated the tax base for FY 2017-18 at $1,321,679,636 using revised assessments to reflect flood damaged properties and new or expanded facilities such as the investment in poultry production facilities.

“One penny on the tax rate will yield $127,185 based on the combined collection rate for real property and motor vehicles of 96.23 percent as reflected in the audited financial statements for the fiscal year ended June 30,” the County Manager stated.

Including the one-half cent property tax rate reduction, projected revenues for the county are sufficient to support the General Fund expenditures for all county operations, programs and debt service obligations, including the appropriation of fund balance reserves in the amount of $1,649,873 which is $222,005 less than the current fiscal year.

“We’re focusing on the continuous improvement of services for citizens through support for staff, and investment in equipment and infrastructure advancements previously neglected or deferred indefinitely,” Sauer said. “Performance matters in the face of adversity as the county faced two floods in a span of 13 days in 2016. We seek to protect our shareholders – the citizens of Bertie County – by cutting taxes for the second straight year, and we strive to improve the quality of life, and protect the public safety for all our citizens.”

Bertie County Schools submitted their proposed budget request to the Commissioners at the May meeting held in the Blue Jay community.

In the county’s 2017-18 projection, $3,003,000 is proposed for the school district’s current expenses with $375,000 proposed for Capital Outlay. The $3,003,000 figure is $514,216 above, or 20.6 percent greater than, the state’s minimum required appropriation for Bertie County Schools.

The Board of Education’s budget request is based on an estimated student enrollment of 2,191 pupils based on 2017-18 planning allotment from the NC Department of Public Instruction.

For county employees, the investment in ‘human capital’ the Commissioners consistently emphasize, there’s a proposed cost of living adjustment of three percent effective July 1 of 2017.

Also included would be an increased annual 401k supplemental retirement contribution of one-half percent to achieve three percent for non-law enforcement personnel. Law enforcement personnel would receive a five percent 401k supplemental retirement contribution as required by state law.

There is a proposal for a $200 annual contribution for each employee medical flexible spending account; a continuation of the Employee Assistance Program; an anticipated seven percent increase in employee health insurance effective January 1 of next year; and an anticipated 25 percent increase in retiree health insurance effective January 1. Sauer said the anticipated cost for retiree health insurance of $437,500 is budgeted for FY 2017-18.

The budget proposal also reflects a request from the judiciary – both Superior Court Judge Cy Grant and Chief District Court Judge Brenda Branch – asked for more courthouse security, including five additional deputy Sheriff positions (hiring effective April 1, 2018); $96,000 in entrance renovations and inmate separation corridor improvements; audio/visual connectivity with Bertie Martin Regional Jail and Bertie Correctional Institution for in-facility containment and remote security of inmates and prisoners for first appearances for which $48,000 is allocated; and $104,000 for court surveillance cameras for entrances, courtrooms and department work stations involving monetary transactions.

In addition to the proposed tax rate reduction, the cost of living adjustment for employees, funding for public education and the courthouse security initiative which are the major areas for consideration, there are many other items of interest which are included in the proposed FY 2017-2018 budget plan.

Copies of the budget summary and line item detail report are available for inspection by anyone at the Clerk to the Board’s Office in the Administration Building in Windsor, and all financial information will be posted and updated on the county’s website in order to provide 24-hour accessibility.

The proposed FY 2017-18 budget for Bertie County will be presented publicly by the County Manager at the Commissioners’ regular meeting on June 5 at 4 p.m., with the Commissioners’ first work session scheduled for June 8.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 7 p.m. June 12 in the Commissioners meeting room in Windsor.