The Transylvania Times -

County Approves Annual Budget-Brevard NC

 

Last updated 6/24/2020 at 3:29pm



On Monday the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $61,041,976 general fund budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The tax rate will remain at $.636 cents per $100 of valuation, and the fire tax rate in each district was increased a half cent to 6 cents, with another $1.2 million for the rest of the fire department funding coming from the previous 10.5-tax increase approved to pay the $68 million school bond.

Commissioners approved using the bond funds due to delays in the school projects starting from the original schedule. If commissioners hadn’t chosen this route, it would have meant a 2-cent property tax increase to fully fund the fire departments.

Commissioners also recommended providing funding to add the first paid personnel and some operating expenses to Balsam Grove Fire Department.

On May 26, County Manager Jaime Laughter presented an initial $59.7 million general fund budget. After two budget workshops, the budget total increased slightly but is still a roughly 9 percent spending decrease from the current fiscal year budget. After the workshops, the only changes to Laugher’s initial budget were $20,000 for Blue Ridge Community College to create a master plan for the Brevard campus and the funding for the fire department budgets.

Reduced capital funding and vehicle replacements in the budget will need to be revisited first with available revenue to avoid spiking costs later, Laughter said. Commissioners are expected to look at these issues in September and January after the impact on sales tax revenue is better known. Sales tax revenue is expected to be down 15 percent, while a $200,000 hit is anticipated in Medicaid hold harmless payments.

COVID-19 is estimated will cause $2 million in revenue losses to the county. Commissioners approved taking the revenues from the 2 cents tax increases in the 2016 and 2020 fiscal years for capital funding to offset the losses. Another $1.4 million was taken from the unassigned fund balance.

Proposed expenditures include general government down 3 percent; education holding steady; culture and recreation steady; public safety up 2 percent; human services up 2 percent; debt service up due to the school bond; and transfers down.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Jason Chappell asked whether there were any changes in fees imposed by the county for various services. Laughter said the county’s fees are in line with other counties and the market. Chappell said he supported the budget but still had concerns about the changes in how the fire departments are funded. The board will face the same questions about the funding next year, he said, noting the $1.2 million needed to fund the departments this coming fiscal year. He understood, based on the current situation, the commissioners funding the departments this way, for now, and he highlighted the unknowns, as far as revenues.

Commissioner Page Lemel said some of the fire tax districts would have faced substantial increases if the commissioners hadn’t gone with the approved funding method. She said that if the county had gone with the previous funding method, those in the Rosman fire district, for example, would have faced an 8 cents fire tax increase.

“It’s a tough, tough situation,” she said. “There are no easy answers here.”

She said the county is doing its best under the “current circumstances.” She hoped to have further conversations to find the best way to fund the departments in an “equitable” way.

Commissioner David Guice said the challenge facing the county is “great.”

“The unknown is what makes it difficult in trying to make decisions,” he said, noting COVID-19’s impacts on day-to-day lives.

He said “serious consideration” needed to be taken about the future of education, including K-12th grade and Blue Ridge Community College, and the judicial system.

The county was in the middle of making decisions about the school system and the courthouse when the pandemic hit, he said. He said paying back the funds issued by the state and federal governments in response to the virus will be another factor. He said the county needs to be “flexible” in the future and faces “challenging days ahead.”

This was Commissioner Jake Dalton’s first county budget process. He agreed there are challenges but believed the county can do some “great things,” such as developing the manufacturing base.

Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins said Chappell’s decision to approve the budget despite opposing how the fire departments are going to be funded was “admirable.”

He said no commissioner is ever fully satisfied with a budget but that was the “nature of a collaborative process.”

“Budgets are not math problems,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes people look at budgets as trying to plug numbers, (but) that’s not what budgets are. Budgets are policy statements. You can tell from a budget that an entity adopts, you can tell what is important to that entity, because if they are not willing to fund something, then it’s not important to them.”

The county’s budget, he said, shows staff and commissioners take “fiduciary responsibility very seriously.” In the budget the county has chosen to “pause” certain capital and other funding until the financial situation is clearer.

“It’s an extraordinary year and this is an extraordinary budget,” he said, noting that using capital reserve funding to pay for operational shortfalls should “ideally” never be done.

Hawkins said he would not agree to the “same approach” next year.

The budget also “says,” Hawkins said, the county is “not closing its doors.” He said mistakes were made in the past when the county experienced tough economic times and it “went into its shell” and didn’t make investments, causing it to lag behind other counties.

The budget, however, has been impacted by other funding sources, such as the General Assembly’s recent decision to stop funds for rural transportation services.

“We have to work within constraints, which limit our ability, sometimes, to get things done,” Hawkins said.

As far as policy, the budget, he said, shows the county’s support for the local school system, with no decrease in spending. He said oversight of the school bond process continues and issues still have to be addressed.

He praised the fire department funding process, which included several meetings held around the county in the past 12 months, but acknowledged that a final funding method is still needed. Lemel also praised the process, saying she learned a lot and welcomed its “transparency.”

In other action:

•Commissioners approved a proclamation in memory of Commissioner Will Cathey, who passed away April 30.

•Commissioners reappointed Greg Cochran, Danny Hein and Cody Owen to another term on the Parks and Recreation Commission; and Kathe Harris to the Regional Council on Aging; and appointed Jessica Shanor to replace David Neumann on the Social Services Board at the end of his term.

•Commissioners approved sending a letter to the U.S. Forest Service to include recommendations from the Transylvania Natural Resources Council on the management plans for Nantahala and Pisgah national forests.

•Commissioners app-roved allowing fire departments in the county to do their audits through their usual auditors and for the county to pay for them. Commissioners approved taking $50,000 from the general fund to pay for the audits.

In the county manager’s report, Laughter noted:

•The new fitness course funded in partnership with Jameson’s Joy has site work underway at the Parks & Recreation Department. The new pickleball courts are almost complete, as well.

•The Federal Reserve is projecting interest rate hikes to be no sooner than late 2021. This gives an 18-month window, where rate increase concerns on projects can be abated.

•Treasury guidance was that 45 percent of CARE funds should go to local government in each state. So far, 8 percent has been allocated between the CARE distribution and the set aside at the state level.

•Supply orders for the town of Rosman and the City of Brevard have been received and will be distributed this week to assist with COVID expenditures.

•The Cedar Mountain Small Area Plan Committee met Tuesday to review a survey that will be available this summer. The county’s Planning Department will send postcards with the link to all property owners in the planning boundary.

•Finance Director Jonathan Griffin has completed all coursework and exams as of May to receive his Finance Office Certification from the N.C. Government Finance Officer’s Association.

 
 

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