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Gates adopts interim budget

GATESVILLE – Slow and easy….that’s the pace in which the Gates County Board of Commissioners have taken as they carefully plan the pending FY 2020-21 budget year.

Facing a $2 million shortfall in the wake of COVID-19’s economic impact locally, statewide and across the nation, the Commissioners opted to slowly move forward towards the immediate future by only adopting an interim operating budget for July.

Typically before July 1, local government entities like Gates County have an operating budget in place for the entire fiscal year (which covers July 1 – June 30). That’s not the case this year as COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented economic times, according to Gates County Manager Natalie Rountree.

Rountree advised the commissioners at their budget planning session last week that there is a projected 20 percent loss in sales tax revenue for the county, which also severely impacts the Medicaid Hold Harmless funds received by the county.

“I am recommending an interim budget for FY 2021. The budget will cover July1-July 31, 2020,” Rountree said.

“It’s a very bare bone budget. It covers everything as it is right now. It pays the salaries and keeps the lights on for one month,” Rountree added.

Without revenue coming into the county’s coffers at this time, Rountree noted that a portion of the General Fund Balance will be used to cover what has to be paid in July, to include salaries. The amount needed for July is $948,243.

“An interim budget gives us time to explore our financial options,” Rountree observed.

She said that March 2020 sales tax revenues will be received in June. April 2020 sales tax revenues will be received in July.

“While these revenues will be for FY20, they will give us an idea of what sales tax revenues for the coming months may hold,” Rountree remarked. “Also, if a slow opening of businesses is allowed to begin in June, some data might be available from the Department of Treasurer and/or Office of State Budget Management about revenues.”

She emphasized to the commissioners that approving an interim budget only appropriates funds necessary for governmental operation (salaries, benefits, utilities, vehicle gas & maintenance, and debt service.) It does not allow for capital projects, repairs, office/equipment supplies, travel, and such.

“Since it does not include revenue estimates, a tax levy is not included with this interim budget,” Rountree stated. “This would mean tax bills would not be prepared until August if a budget is not passed until the end of July.”

“We can’t have an annual budget until we vote on a tax rate,” remarked Commission Vice Chair Jack Owens. “We’re working off projections, we’re working off the unknown right now.”

Rountree told the commissioner that once the entire FY 2020-2021 budget is adopted, it rolls back to include everything from July 1 forward.

Due to the fact that adoption of an interim budget does not require a published notification or a public hearing, Owens motioned to approve an interim budget to cover the month of July. Commissioner Linda Hofler offered a second to the motion.

At that point, Commissioner Jonathan Jones inquired of a hiring freeze on current unfilled county positions.

Rountree said that the freeze impacts all positions with the exception of one vacancy in the Department of Social Services that must be filled as that position is deemed essential.

Owens changed his motion to include a hiring freeze except for essential personnel, which Hofler seconded.

The measure was approved by a 5-0 vote.

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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