Proposed County budget has no tax or fee increase
The proposed General Fund budget for Alexander County for fiscal year 2017-2018 totals $38,900,000 with no proposed tax increase and no change in fees. This was the figure suggested by County Manager Rick French during the Alexander County Commissioners’ meeting, held Tuesday, May 23.
French related that the original 2016-2017 budget totaled $38,284,170. The revised 2016-2017 budget (after budget amendments) to date totals $39,522,836. The 2015-2016 budget for the General Fund totaled $38,867,686.
There is no recommended funding increase in the budget for Alexander County Schools. Funding is recommended at $6,031,900 to the schools, which is the same as last year without Auditorium reimbursement. County government obligation on the Auditorium ends with the debt payoff during this current fiscal year.
Several administrators from Alexander County Schools were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
Speaking further about school funding, French noted that last year, the General Assembly approved additional sales taxes as part of the sales tax expansion. New sales tax is part of the 2016-2017 budget. Alexander County will receive $1.3 million in the current fiscal year. This sales tax can only be expended in three areas, including education, community college and economic development. The Alexander County Board of Commissioners approved $400,000 of the new sales tax for Alexander County Schools last year (2016-2017). In fact, since the 2013-2014 budget year, Alexander County Commissioners have increased funding to Alexander County Schools by $1,031,900.
In conjunction with these funds, Alexander County borrowed $6,256,217 on June 30, 2004 to finance three projects. One of these projects was building an auditorium at Alexander Central High School. A total of $4,000,000 of the June 30, 2004 loan was for auditorium construction. For many years, Alexander County has paid debt service on school capital projects from the Article 40 and Article 42 sales tax that is set aside for school capital. When the auditorium project came along, the BOE did not want the full amount of debt service to be paid from the sales tax set-aside money. The BOE wanted the County to pay $2,000,000 (half the principal amount of the auditorium debt) out of County general fund money.
The County agreed to a twelve-year schedule to make annual payments to the BOE as follows: $125,000 in FY 2006, $200,000 in FY 2007, $325,000 in FY 2008, and $150,000 per year FY’s 2009 thru 2017. These payments are referred to as Auditorium Reimbursement payments and will be paid in full by June 30, 2017.
School nurse funds
One funded expense, not mentioned at the work session is the School Nurse Funding Initiative Grant funds. The Alexander County Health Department has managed these grant funds from the State for the last six years (FY 2012-FY 2017). The Health Department has given $898,391 to the school system during this time, which equates to about $150,000 per year for school nurses.
A joint meeting between the Alexander County Commissioners, Alexander County School Board and CVCC is being planned to discuss the plan for Early College. No county funds are budgeted for Early College. A total of $47,771 was paid for Early College with the ARC Equipment Grant ($100,000 grant plus $100,000 local match).
Sales tax growth
As presented at the May 15, 2017, budget work session, sales tax plays a major role in revenue for the General Fund budget as 18% of General Fund revenues are from sales taxes.
“Growing our county’s tax base continues to be our number one challenge in Alexander County,” said French. “County sales taxes are improving slowly, new business and industry are also improving. This is an incremental process.”
Last month, County Commissioners applied for two state low interest loans and grants. Alexander County applied for nearly $5 million in low interest water loans and $5 million in sewer infrastructure for the Bethlehem Community. A $1 million sewer project will extend pressure sewer into Stony Point at Shurtape Industries. A second sewer grant will be applied for this summer for Stony Point.
Despite these efforts, county tax base grows slowly at less than 1% in new growth in property tax revenue.
Budget requests that may be funded
Of the almost $41,000,000 in budgetary request received, capital items in the 2017-2018 budget are as follows:
• $235,000 capital outlay for four vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department with camera systems, emergency lights, sirens, radios, rifle / shotgun, AED and other emergency equipment.
• $170,000 capital outlay for new ambulance to replace 2009 ambulance with over 225,000 miles.
• $225,900 for new technology request from replacing computers, network switches, redundant firewall, cameras at courthouse and some phone replacement that is detailed in the request notebooks.
• $115,000 to purchase property, which is currently being leased for evidence storage building.
• $101,656 to replace existing county mobile air van.
• $41,777 to purchase thirty-three hand held radios in Detention.
• $46,000 to replace two county DSS vehicles. The estimated county funding is $30,814.
• $12,000 projector / screen replacement in training room for Sheriff’s Office.
Funds are set aside to repave the Bethlehem Library, Health Dept. and County Administration parking lots.
New positions possible
Twenty-three employees were requested and discussed at the 2017-2018 budget work session on May 15, 2017. Most requested employees are not funded, including a full-time employee at the NC License Plate Agency and Rocky Face Park. Funded employees include a full-time County Attorney, a DSS Income Maintenance Supervisor, Public Information Director, Health Promotion Planner (employee will work between Health & Emergency Services), a purchasing employee, moving a part-time employee at the Senior Center to full-time (not replacing part-time employee), Human Resource employee, two 911 Telecommunicators (starting October 2017) and four EMS employees from the 12 hour truck to a 24 hour truck which will decrease majority of overtime. These employees would start in October 2017.
Cost of living raise
A 2.5% COLA is proposed effective October 2017. This will cost the County $253,304. We previously discussed a COLA effective September 2017. The last COLA for Alexander County employees was approved in Dec. 2010.
Commissioners related there was a need to sit down with the full school board and CVCC leaders to discuss planning.
The public hearing for the 2017-18 proposed budget is scheduled at the June 5, Commissioners’ meeting, at 6 p.m. in Room 103 of CVCC-Alexander Center.
In other news:
• Commissioners approved Budget Amendments #39-41 for the current year’s budget, adjusting Information Technology and water fund items.
• The Board approved resolutions to support economic development and mental health funding.
• To the Council on Aging, Douglas Howes and Leeanne Whisnant were appointed, while Bonnie Simms, Christine Gates, Margo Mosley, Jeri Perry, and Julie Sebastian were reappointed.