County Manager presents proposed 2022-23 budget
County Manager Rick French presented the proposed 2022-2023 budget to the Alexander County Board of Commissioners at the May 16th meeting. The proposed budget includes a 4-cent property tax decrease, which would lower the tax rate to 75 cents per $100 valuation, if approved. A public hearing to discuss the proposed budget is scheduled for June 6, with the adoption of the budget set for June 20.
“While we were not able to accommodate all budgetary requests from county departments, the 2022-2023 proposed budget includes many necessary items that will benefit our citizens and employees,” said County Manager French. “We are hopeful that the 4-cent tax decrease can be accomplished to ease the tax burden on our residents and businesses. I appreciate the assistance of the finance department in the preparation of this budget, and I look forward to working with commissioners during the budget process.”
Mr. French said the proposed General Fund budget totals $52,385,587, compared to the 2021-2022 budget which currently stands at $50,741,302. The proposed budget includes $6.6 million of appropriated fund balance.
Per the audit report for the year ended June 30, 2021, the County’s total fund balance amount was $23,498,857. The fund balance available for appropriation was $19,195,572. Thus, the fund balance percentage as of June 30 was 46.16%. Part of the reason for the large fund balance is budgeted, but vacant, positions in several County departments — more than 20 unfilled jobs at last count.
The General Fund original budget approved last year (June 2021) for 2021-22 was $45,927,097 and appropriated a fund balance of $2,800,000 but currently stands at $50,741,302 with appropriated fund balance of $5,000,000.
The proposed budget includes no tax increases in fire districts and no fee increases for building inspections, zoning, or fire inspections. The City of Hickory is proposing a 3 percent increase in water rates, pending approval of the Hickory City Council.
The recommended General Fund budget includes a 5 percent cost of living increase for employees totaling $937,000, an increase of $312,000 in General Fund appropriations to volunteer fire departments, and a $252,368 increase in county appropriation to Alexander County Schools. Capital outlay items in the proposed budget include expanding the fiber/internet network for certain county facilities ($115,000), an alignment machine for the county garage ($55,000), four vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office ($244,000), replacement of the boiler at the courthouse ($150,000), replacement of radio system/equipment for 911 Communications ($50,000), one ambulance remount ($114,000), one power lift for EMS ($60,000), replacement of two DSS vehicles ($53,000), and replacement of the roof on the Sheriff’s Office evidence storage building ($140,000).
Proposed new positions
The proposed budget includes the following new full-time employees: Assistant County Manager, Planner, Accounting Assistant – Payroll, License Plate Agency staff position, Paralegal, Environmental Health staff position, Dental Assistant, Animal Control Officer, and Park Assistant. In addition, part-time or seasonal positions are recommended for the Parks and Recreation Department to work at Wittenburg Access Area and Alexander County Courthouse Park.
Mr. French said the 2022-2023 fiscal year will see the completion of two substantial utility projects — the Alexander County Water Expansion Project and the Bethlehem Sewer Extension Project — both of which began in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. These two projects will provide reliable services for citizens and businesses while enhancing economic development opportunities.
The County Manager said that the county is in the early stages of implementing grant-funded projects that resulted from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The majority of ARPA funds received by the county will be used to construct new water lines for unserved areas. In addition, the state budget has approved grants for an elevated water storage tank in Bethlehem and a sewer extension along Rink Dam Road to Bowman Court.
A copy of the proposed 2022-2023 budget is on file with the Clerk to the Board and is available for public inspection.
In other business:
• Commissioners approved an agreement with McGill Associates to provide professional engineering services to assist with the administration of Alternate State Emergency Funds that have been awarded to Alexander County. The award, which totals $174,287, will be used for storm debris removal from local streams as a result of damage caused by Tropical Storm Eta in November 2020. The scope of services includes bid document preparation, permitting coordination, bid phase services, construction phase services, and grant assistance services which are estimated to cost $28,040, of which $24,040 will be funded by the grant. The remaining $4,000 will be appropriated from the county’s General Fund.
• Commissioners approved an amendment to section 7 of the county’s personnel policy regarding the limitation on the employment of relatives. The policy originally read, “no two members of an immediate family shall be employed within the same department.” The policy now says, “the employment of relatives within the same department at the same time is to be avoided… exceptions may be granted, as needed, in order to retain current employees or unless significant recruitment difficulties exist.”
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners typically meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. The next meeting is set for Monday, June 6 at 6:00 p.m. Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at www.alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.