Tax hike proposed in Bertie

Published 5:03 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on Monday, June 17 to consider feedback on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, one that may possibly need local taxpayers to dig a little deeper in their pockets.

County Manager Juan Vaughan, II presented an updated budget proposal to the commissioners at Monday’s meeting, noting that it had undergone changes since the original presentation in May due to a miscalculation.

“An error was discovered in the revenue projections for that budget,” Vaughan explained. “Our tax administrator confirmed a miscalculation and a software malfunction.”

Vaughan emphasized that the error didn’t cause the county to lose any revenue. Instead, they had simply over-projected what they expected to receive.

“As a result, several cuts were made to the original proposed budget, and a larger tax increase has been recommended,” he continued.

That new recommendation is a 4.5 cent ad valorem tax increase. It would bring the current rate of 86.5 cents to 91 cents (per $100 of property value).

Vaughan stated that the General Fund in the proposed budget would total $25.7 million, and there is no appropriation from the county’s Fund Balance.

He explained that they had to make some cuts from the original proposal, including the purchase of an ambulance, power lift stretcher, and an inspections vehicle, along with line item reductions in Parks & Rec, EMS, and the Sheriff’s Office.

They also had to cut some special appropriations, including contributions to new nonprofit organizations.

“After much thought and consideration, the biggest reduction in this category is the reduction to Bertie County Public Schools in the amount of $300,000,” Vaughan announced.

Vaughan justified the decision by explaining that the district has declining enrollment and recently closed three buildings, which will save on expenses by no longer having to be maintained. He also added that the school district received over $1 million for the sale of the former Askewville Preschool building, and their fund balance has been increasing.

He noted that the county’s funding for the school district has remained at the same level for the past few years, even when county departments had to make cuts in 2021 and 2022.

Vaughan concluded his presentation by stating that education is a priority, but the county must also prioritize other things as well, including law enforcement, EMS, the aging population, and more.

Following the county manager’s presentation, Board Chair John Trent opened the floor for public comments on the budget proposal.

Only Bertie Schools Superintendent Dr. Otis Smallwood chose to speak.

“I understand as a county we have some budget challenges,” he began. “You do have tough decisions to make. I totally understand that, and I empathize with each of you. However, I do want to take a few minutes to advocate for the children of Bertie County Schools.”

Dr. Smallwood pointed out that even though enrollment is decreasing, it doesn’t mean student needs have decreased as well.

He explained that the district was able to build up their fund balance by creatively using federal funds provided during the pandemic. But those funds will be ending this year. He also explained that the $1 million from the Askewville Preschool building sale will only cover about half of the capital needs in the district’s remaining buildings.

Dr. Smallwood said local funds from the county provide supplements to many parts of the district, including the early learning program, school nutrition, athletics, textbook purchases, field trips, and more.

The superintendent wrapped up his remarks by emphasizing that the district has been steadily improving, and funding helps that to continue.

During the commissioners’ comments afterwards, Ronald Roberson said, “we as a commissioner board need to stand with education.”

Trent stated that the budget isn’t set in stone yet, and they would still look at every avenue to maintain the status quo.

The board held two more budget work sessions on June 20 and June 21. They are expected to adopt their new budget at their regular meeting scheduled for June 26.

The new fiscal year (FY25) will begin July 1, 2024 and run through June 30, 2025.