HC adopts new budget

Published 4:41 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2017

WINTON – While the proposed Hertford County operating budget for 2017-18 was approved without opposition here Tuesday morning, there was a sticking point.

In preparing the new budget, which becomes effective July 1, County Manager Loria Williams wrestled with balancing the finances of the Solid Waste Department. That portion of county government has witnessed cost overruns in recent years and Williams said she wanted to balance its budget without raising the annual $150 Solid Waste assessment fee charged to each household tax bill.

With prior approval from the county’s Board of Commissioners, Williams opted to save money by reducing the number of operating hours at the county’s Solid Waste disposal sites, with the exception of the old landfill located on Mt. Moriah Road.

That plan, which was formally approved with Tuesday’s adoption of the entire county budget, closes the other disposal sites on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All disposal sites will remain open on Saturdays.

Williams said adopting this new operating schedule will save the county $67,000 annually, thus avoiding an increase in the Solid Waste disposal fee.

“Our Solid Waste budget has run in the red for the last two to three years,” Williams said. “There are reasons why, the biggest of which is e-waste disposal (discarded electronic items). Those costs are going through the roof, going from $10,000 annually a few years ago to over $40,000 now. There’s no market available to recycle those items.”

Williams reminded the board that the Solid Waste department’s budget is built on user fees….the majority coming from the $150 annual assessment per residential tax bill.

“Do we increase that fee, or reduce operations to balance the (Solid Waste) budget,” Williams asked. “Previous discussion by this board was not to increase the assessment fee, but rather to cut operating hours at all disposal sites except the one on Mt. Moriah Road.”

Williams added that the commissioners could bring this closure issue back to the table after the first quarter of the new fiscal year to judge the impact of the new operational schedule at the disposal sites.

“I don’t think the public is very clear about this new open-close schedule,” said Commission Chairman Ronald Gatling. “This needs to be cleared up.”

Commissioner John Horton said he was concerned about the livelihood of the county employees working at those disposal sites that will be closed two days per week.

“This change impacts those employees,” Horton noted. “Their hours will be reduced; their pay will be reduced.”

Horton suggested that perhaps those employees should have been initially contacted to see if they had any ideas on how to operate the disposal sites more efficiently.

“I agree, Mr. Horton, but we had to do something because we can’t continue to operate our Solid Waste department in the red financially,” stated Gatling. “We either increase the fees or we find some unique way to reduce the operating costs. Closing two days was our choice.”

Commissioner Curtis Freeman stressed the majority of the county employees at the disposal sites were retirees working part-time. However, he did mention that he knew of two individuals who worked at the disposal sites and that job was their main source of family income.

“They rely on that salary,” Freeman said.

“We have to balance the needs of 6,000 households who use the disposal sites against the salaries we pay to our employees at the disposal sites,” Williams remarked. “But in the end, we need to remember that we have a fiduciary responsibility to operate an enterprise fund in the way it is intended to be run.”

The General Fund portion of the newly adopted 2017-18 county budget stands at $29,046,869. It comes without an increase in property tax as that remains at 84 cents (per $100 of property value).

Williams noted that the new budget is approximately $1.5 million more than the one for FY 2016-17. In explaining the reasons for that increase, Williams mentioned a 20 percent increase in health insurance premiums for county employees, as well as hikes in debt service payments (primarily due to the renovation costs of the now expanded DSS building, and a planned renovation of the Scott Edwards building in Ahoskie, recently purchased by the county that will eventually become the new home of the Ahoskie Nutrition Site and the Hertford County Board of Elections). She added that an increase in capital outlay funds for the county’s public schools is another “cost driver.”

Topping the list of departmental appropriations for 2017-18 is Public Safety ($7.49 million). Of that amount, the Jail ($2.32 million), the Sheriff’s Office ($2.22 million) and Emergency Medical Services ($1.34 million) consume the lion’s share of those taxpayer dollars.

Public Education will receive $6.97 million in local funds for 2017-18. Hertford County Public Schools was budgeted $4.42 million in current expense funds as well as an additional $1.18 million in Capital Outlay. Meanwhile, Roanoke-Chowan Community College will receive over $1 million in local taxpayer money ($978,839 for general operations plus $310,000 in Capital Outlay).

For the Human Services Department, the new budget applies $6.95 million. The majority of that covers DSS Administration ($2.91 million) and DSS Public Assistance ($1.85 million).

General Government gains $4.41 million from local taxpayers, while the county’s annual debt service payments for 2017-18 total $1.45 million.

Revenue to fuel the new budget is led by property tax ($12.16 million), the county’s share of state sales and use taxes ($4.68 million), restricted intergovernmental funds for DSS ($3.7 million), and vehicle tax ($1.6 million).

The newly adopted financial spreadsheet also uses $1.65 million of the county’s appropriated Fund Balance.

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.

email author More by Cal