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Backing down

WINDSOR – For the first time in three years, and two years removed from a rollback, Bertie County’s ad valorem tax rate is headed up, bringing the rate to $0.865 cents per $100 of assessed value.

However, there’s still time for change, as the final 2019-2020 budget ordinance is not slated to be adopted until the Bertie County Commissioners reconvene for a vote on June 18.

The current tax rate is 83 cents.

Monday night, a public hearing was held in the Commissioner’s Room of the County Administration Building where the Board sought citizen input on suggested adjustments to be considered prior to final adoption.

On June 3, County Manager Scott Sauer submitted a proposed budget totaling a little less than $25.5 million. He said for the next two days, the Commissioners worked through the proposal and made adjustments that reduced the original proposition down by $711,000 to $24.8 million, and reducing the proposed tax hike from nine cents to 3.5 cents.

Sauer said the biggest driver of the budget is staffing for personnel, which elicited the most conversation.

“We have about 13 vacancies in the Sheriff’s Office and 15 vacancies in the two EMS call centers (9-1-1 and non-emergency),” he said. “That’s an adjustment of one-penny on the tax rate.”

He then spoke of some items that remained in the budget, per recommendation.

“There were two new positions recommended,” he noted. “One in the Inspections Department to assist with the new Fire Prevention Regulations that went into effect in January; and, for the Board of Elections, there is a new position to assist with the ever-expanding responsibility due to new voter-ID regulations and the 2020 election cycle.”

Sauer said several human resource components for county employees would remain: the $200 contribution to the Health Savings account and the three-percent 401-K contribution for non-public safety employees, and the three percent salary increase for those same employees effective on July 1.

The County Manager also reminded his audience that a monthly and yearly breakdown of the increase is available on the county’s website for single-family properties, farm properties, waterfront properties, and mobile homes.

There were three public comments at Monday’s meeting: one citizen questioned the proposed addition in the Inspections Department; there was a request for an increase of $3,000 to the allotment to the Windsor-Bertie Chamber of Commerce from the $5,000 proposed; and finally, a comment of gratitude that the increase was 3.5 cents and not the nine cents proposed at initial release.

During comments, the Commissioners thanked the public for their input.

“It’s our job to cut this down to something reasonable that we feel the citizens can afford,” said Commissioner Ron Wesson. “The big drivers in the budget are citizens; people who work for the county and bring services to the people. That’s a good way to spend money.”

All the Commissioners urged citizens to visit the county website and view the proposed budget ordinance before the final approval.

Board chairman John Trent then called for a motion instructing the County Manager Finance Director William Robertson to prepare the Budget Ordinance for adoption June 18 with the proposed tax increase.  Wesson made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Greg Atkins, and it was approved unanimously.