With a Saturday deadline looming, the Stokes County Board of Commissioners met for five hours Tuesday before approving a budget by a 4-1 vote.
The approved budget for fiscal year 2012-13 includes no tax increases, instead using around $1.7 million from the fund balance to fill budget holes. The tax rate remains 60 cents for the general fund and four cents for school and community college construction. The budget sticks with the county manager’s original school allocation proposal and includes a $400 bonus for full-time county employees.
Commissioner Jimmy Walker was the only member to vote against the budget, stating that it was a “fairly good product” but that he thought it could use a little more work. The county had to approve a budget by Saturday, as the new fiscal year begins Sunday, July 1. The commissioners have held numerous budget meetings over the past month.
Through a reworking of Title 19 Medicaid funds and CenterPoint funds in the budget, the county was able to decrease its fund balance appropriation from around $2 million to around $1.7 million. This will mean the county budget increases by 11.67 percent instead of 15 percent as previously calculated. Some of those funds will come from remaining Hold Harmless funds.
The overall budget increase was one of the things that most concerned Commissioner Walker, but county officials have explained that the majority of that increase can be attributed to items such as unfunded mandates, most significant of which is an estimated $2 million mandatory upgrade to emergency communications equipment. Some of that will be paid for using E911 funds, some from municipalities, and the rest financed by the county. The final system cost is still being worked out, but the upgrade must take place by the end of the year.
There is also an unresolved $1.27 million debt payment owed to Baptist Hospital which resulted from the changing of hands of the hospital in Danbury in recent years. The hospital is now overseen by Pioneer, but some payments are still being sorted out. Commissioners are hoping this debt may be reduced some, but it is still built into the budget in case the full amount is needed.
Other commissioners agreed that they did not like to see a budget increase, but that many of those costs would not be in the budget next year. When taking out unfunded mandates and one-time costs, Finance Director Julia Edwards said it was more like a 1.2-percent increase from last year’s budget. And the county is facing rising health insurance and fuel costs this year. Commissioner Leon Inman said he didn’t see any “wants” in the budget, but “needs” to maintain county services at their current levels.
Walker said, “I’m not sure our budget fits a tough time budget.”
Inman asked, “What are our choices, Commissioner Walker? Are you willing to cut services?”
Board Chairman Ernest Lankford said, “We’re too lean now.”
They all expressed frustration over unfunded mandates from the state.
This year’s budget is themed “Long Term Survival Under the New Normal,” and with a reduction in property tax revenues expected next year and the loss of Hold Harmless funds, County Manager Rick Morris is predicting a need for a tax increase in the future. He proposes to keep the county’s fund balance around 20 percent or higher if possible.
Despite the school board’s recent request for more funding from the county, the board decided to leave funding at the level proposed by the county manager, which would be a net increase for current expenses of about $17,700. For the new Poplar Springs Elementary School, $117,700 would come from the four-cent school tax to help fund operating expenses, but the contribution from the general fund would be $100,000 less than the previous year.
The school system requested around $2.7 million for capital outlay projects, around $2 million of which was for roof repairs, but the county approved an allocation of $320,000 and authorized the school board to use up to $1 million from the school system’s fund balance as well. But the school board has planned to use $1 million from the fund balance to fund staff instead of having to cut positions this year.
The county is expected to get around $472,400 in lottery funds this year, according to Inman, less than the $500,000 built into the financial model to pay for school construction and debt. But Morris said there is flexibility in the model to allow for that.
The commissioners discussed the possibility of the school system having to pay less money back to the state via discretionary reversions, but varying figures were thrown out by officials.
The board began its budget meeting with a lengthy discussion about CenterPoint Human Services’ request for $148,000 to be paid back over five years. CenterPoint has been approved by the state to operate under a Medicaid waiver, and this will lead to a shift of some additional responsibilities to the agency managing local mental health services, as well as an increase in its number of employees.
Inman said the funds could be paid back by CenterPoint indirectly by reducing the county’s discretionary allocation to CenterPoint by $29,600 each year for five years. Inman said he was assured this would not lead to a reduction in services, as the cut would be spread between several providers and be minimal for each.
The board gave consensus to leave enough money in the budget for the one-time $148,000 allocation, but to discuss it further in the future before deciding whether to actually disperse it. Morris said it would be better to have this money built into the budget regardless than to leave it out and decide to add it later. The $29,600 reduction will also be included in the budget.
The following are some other items of interest from the approved budget:
• The commissioners approved a $400 bonus for full-time employees, with regular part-time employees receiving a bonus on a pro-rated basis. Inman was in favor of a $500 bonus, but agreed to the $400. This will be paid in December.
• An annual fee of $50 will now be charged to dog breeders, which would be people regularly breeding dogs to sell for a profit. There were also two fee increases related to the shelter, including a redemption fee raise from $25 to $35 and an adoption fee increase from $36 to $45.
• The 911 Communications Center will be relocated in the former office occupied by Forsyth Tech, which is located in the same building as the sheriff’s office. The cost for the transition could come out of the capital fund for the communications upgrade.
• Edwards worked to separate Title 19 Medicaid funds used by the health department out of the county budget, because it was showing some local funds included in there as well. That was separated out so the health department would use all those funds for projects such as its proposed new building construction before coming to the county for dollars. Also, some fee increases were approved for fees overseen by the health department. The main increase was from $200 to $250 for new restaurant reviews.
The board planned to meet Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. to approve the budget ordinance.