Bertie’s new budget moves closer to adoption

Published 9:10 am Friday, June 17, 2022

WINDSOR – Bertie County’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23 has been slightly adjusted upward.

During last week’s required public hearing on the new budget, County Manager Juan Vaughan II said his original budget, presented last month to the commissioners and the public, has increased by $12,000. He said that additional money was needed to retain the services of a consultant assisting with the Tall Glass of Water project (the county’s ongoing effort to improve property it purchased several years ago on the Chowan River).

That increase brings the proposed FY 2022-23 General Fund budget to $24,319,447.

Vaughan said he and the county’s Finance Director made an adjustment to the state sales tax revenue the county is projected to receive in order to accommodate the extra $12,000 needed in the budget for expenditures.

“Even with that increase, the proposed General Fund budget is still less than a one percent increase of the General Fund budget from last year,” Vaughan stated. “Of course everyone knows we’ve been trying to stay in that 24 million dollar range for our budget to try and build back our fund balance.”

Vaughan also noted that the proposed new budget does not include a hike in property taxes (remaining at 86.5 cents per $100 of value) and did not need to transfer any money from fund balance in order to balance the bottom line.

“We have increased our fund balance from one percent in 2020 to over six percent last year,” Vaughan stated.

Vaughan is proposing a two percent cost of living increase for all employees of Bertie County local government.

“I know our employees would have liked to have seen a little bit more, but doing more than that would have required a [property] tax increase,” he said.

As for the county’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, Vaughan stated that in excess of one million dollars will be spent on projects that directly benefit county citizens. He said that includes a $500,000 match for a plan undertaken by Roanoke Connect to apply for a grant that will bring broadband internet service countywide. Other ARPA funds will be used for the Tall Glass of Water project, tax department software, repairs to a communications tower, and a vehicle purchase for the Bertie office of the NC Forest Service.

The budget proposal received praise from two commissioners.

“Thanks to Juan [Vaughan], William [Roberson, the Finance Director], and David [Scarborough, the Assistant County Manager] for the tremendous job they’ve done in not just this upcoming year’s budget, but even for getting us caught up on the audits that were behind and for dealing with our very low fund balance,” stated Ron Wesson. “We’re coming out of that very, very well and the projections of the next audit will have us back on track.

“We’ve been able to do that at the same time we’ve been able to give our citizens some of the things that they have been asking for. One is broadband service. This will bring high-speed internet to the vast majority of our citizens in the just a few years. This is a tremendous investment,” Wesson added.

“I echo what our vice chairman (Wesson) just said,” stated Tammy Lee. “I really thank the staff. They worked hard and their efforts are showing. I’m very proud of the work they have done.”

Only one member of the public – former County Manager Scott Sauer – addressed the commissioners regarding the planned budget. Sauer noted he has identified some items he asked the commissioners to review and examine prior to the adoption of the budget ordinance. Those items included:

There is no special appropriation for Vidant Hospital – Indigent Care. In prior years that annual appropriation was $120,000.

“Has there been discussion with the board in a public meeting or formal action by the governing body to change this amount, and recorded in the meeting minutes,” Sauer asked.

As for the line item in the proposed budget dealing with the OPEB Trust, Sauer noted there was no funding proposed.

That trust fund provides health insurance for retired county employee health insurance, or “other post employment obligations” as described by government accounting standard guidelines.

He said the budget ordinances adopted by the commissioners for the past five years the budgeted amount is typically $242,000 annually for the OPEB Trust fund.

“Beginning July 1, 2016 a monthly allocation of $100 per position was established to be included in the budget ordinance for that year and that same amount for all future years, which shall be deposited in the OPEB trust,” Sauer noted.

“The draft budget ordinance for the proposed FY 2023 budget does not contain this special instruction,” Sauer continued. “Has there been discussion with the board in a public meeting or formal action by the governing body to change or abolish this policy, and recorded in the meeting minutes?”

Sauer also asked the commissioners to identify the amount of funds for the new animal shelter in the proposed budget or the ARPA funding plan priorities.

The former county manager closed his remarks by referencing the proposed property taxes (personal property and motor vehicle) for FY 2022-2023 is $12,860,200.

“By comparison, the estimated FY 2023 taxes recommended by the [Bertie] Tax Office is $12,491,500. “That’s a difference of $368,700 in new tax revenue,” Sauer said. “The Tax Office recommendation FY 2023 of $12,491,500 is actually $129,326 less than the projected tax revenue for the current year (FY 2022 revised) of $12,620,826 which can be seen also on page one of the line item detail.”

Sauer stated it would require new growth in the county’s tax base of $42 million to equal the increase in tax revenue of $368,700 above the estimated taxes recommended by the Tax Office.

“Taken collectively, the elimination of the OPEB Trust fund allocation of $242,000; the elimination of the $120,000 Vidant hospital indigent fund; and the proposed growth in the tax levy of $368,700 are budget adjustments totaling $730,700 or 5.13 cents on the tax rate,” Sauer noted. “With the current state of the economy with rising gas and grocery prices, it’s understandable that the board doesn’t want to increase taxes this year. If a tax rate increase is warranted, please take the time to consider this option rather than setting an unrealistic revenue target and gutting long-term commitments for the county.”

The commissioners plan to adopt the FY21-22 budget at their next regularly scheduled meeting on June 21. That new budget becomes effective July 1.


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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