Bertie adopts budget

Published 5:21 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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WINDSOR – Bertie County’s Board of Commissioners have approved an operating budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23.

At their meeting here June 21, the board gave the green light to an earlier budget proposal made by County Manager Juan Vaughan II. The General Fund portion of the budget is $24,319,447.

The 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.

It also includes a two percent cost of living increase for all employees of Bertie County local government.

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.

Emergency Medical Services will receive the most money ($3,078,183) from the General Fund. Other departments topping the list for budget expenditures are the Sheriff’s Office ($3,026,427), and Non-Emergency Transport ($892,287).

The Bertie County Schools Current Expense Fund appropriation in the amount of $3,027,671 is contained within the General Fund and shall be paid to the Bertie County Schools in 12 equal monthly installments.

The Bertie County Schools Capital Outlay Fund appropriation of $375,000 is contained within the General

Fund and shall be paid to the Bertie County Schools as needed for payment of invoices.

As part of the June 21 meeting, Vaughan answered the questions about the 2022-23 budget as posed earlier by former Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer.

Sauer inquired about the special appropriation for Vidant Hospital – Indigent Care. In prior years that annual appropriation was $120,000 but was listed at zero in the new budget.

“According to the lease agreement for the hospital, and as confirmed by our county attorneys, annual payments for indigent and charity care in the amount of $120,000 ends when the hospital debt no longer exists,” Vaughan said in response. “Earlier this calendar year, the last payment on the debt service for the hospital’s construction was made. Vidant Bertie Hospital President Brian Harville confirmed that the final payment was made and he has the same understanding regarding the termination of payments for indigent and charity care by the county.”

Vaughan sent on to say that county’s termination of payments to the hospital for indigent and charity care will not adversely affect citizens of Bertie County being served by Vidant Bertie. He said that Harville confirmed the hospital’s requirement and commitment to serve all patients who show up for care and treatment.

As for the line item in the 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.

Vaughan said prior to his arrival as the county manager, the Bertie Commissioners requested that management establish an irrevocable trust for OPEB reserves to meet the future retiree health insurance obligation in the amount of $242,400 per year. Since the trust was not established as requested by the board, the funds that were appropriated and intended for the OPEB Trust were set aside in Fund Balance – Committed Fund Balance.

“As a result of a quickly declining available fund balance that was one percent of general fund expenditures due to untimely reimbursements in addition to the repeated used of fund balance to balance the budget, as of June 30, 2020, the funds that were set aside for OPEB Trust was essentially spent because it wasn’t put in the irrevocable trust,” Vaughan remarked. “After careful review of several audits and consultation with our county attorneys, the Board of Commissioners voted to no longer appropriate $242,400 for the OPEB Trust that was never established. The Board has expressed its intent to get grow the county’s fund balance and to reconsider the irrevocable trust when the county is a better financial position. The omission of the $242,400 in next year’s budget was not an oversight by present management nor the board.”

Sauer asked the commissioners to identify the amount of funds for the new animal shelter in the proposed budget or the ARPA funding plan priorities. Vaughan confirmed that $300,000 is appropriated in the 2022-23 budget for that project.

The former county manager also referenced the property taxes (personal property and motor vehicle) for FY 2022-2023 as totaling $12,860,200. He said in comparison, the estimated FY 2023 taxes recommended by the county’s 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.

“It is a normal practice for [county] managers to review and adjust revenue projections as appropriate,” Vaughan replied. “This isn’t the first year that the manager and Finance Office have adjusted the projections for revenue. The increase was not made because of a new discovery of a taxable property. The finance director and I believed that the Tax Administrator’s projection for collecting prior years’ taxes could be increased based on the total amount of prior years’ taxes that could be collected and prior years’ taxes that we’ve received in years past.”

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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