On Tuesday evening, Interim County Manager Jake Oakley presented a $49,042,299 budget to the Stokes County Board of Commissioners.
Oakley said the guidance for this year’s budget was based on the goal sessions held during the month of March that relied upon a conservative budgeting philosophy to balance service demands with available revenues.
The interim county manager conceded that some requests were approved, some reduced and some eliminated, but none were taken lightly.
“This fiscal year’s budget had its challenges. My primary goals were to present a balanced budget, while preserving a high quality of service to citizens, combined with meeting as many goals of the board of commissioners as funding would allow.”
Oakley proposed creating a new tax code for the Stokes County Board of Education, which would require separating the general county rate of $0.62 into two taxing areas. One, for the general county rate of $0.31 and the second for the school’s current expense fund with a rate of $0.31.
“Separating the original tax rate into these new taxing funds will allow taxpayers better transparency, relating to where their tax dollars are being spent,” he said.
Ad Valorem (Property Tax)
The recommended budget includes no property tax increase, and if approved, will mark the fourth consecutive year without a property tax increase.
General Fund Balance
In the proposed budget, an appropriation of $2,752,174 would be used from the county’s general fund account to balance the budget and assure that funding for services provided by the county are met. The amount is the equivalent of a 7.2 cent tax increase of the property tax rate and reduces the fund balance from 33.56 percent ($14,997,977) to 27.4 percent ($12,245,803) per the county fiscal year 2017 audit.
“During the budget goal sessions, the board of county commissioners expressed concerns that the fund balance should not drop below 25 percent,” Oakley said. “I regret having to use any of county fund balance to balance my recommended budget. However, to meet each department’s needs, the needs of the school system, and to provide adequate services for our citizens, I had no choice other than to request the transfer of the amount stated above to ensure continued stability in our budget.”
The Stokes County Sheriff’s Office is currently under contract for a new jail expansion and the completion date is set for mid to late February, 2019. Oakley proposed funding six new jailer positions.
“The sheriff’s office is projecting savings with the housing of inmates from other counties as a revenue source of being able to provide the same type of service as housing inmates here at Stokes,” the interim town manager said.
Equipment / Vehicles
The proposed budget allocates $177,200 for six new vehicles, which would include four SUV’s and two trucks, for the sheriff’s department and $71,775 for upgraded software, computer, and body armor vests.
Oakley proposed Stokes Emergency Medical Services receive $252,200 to remount an existing ambulance, purchase LifePak, laptops with docking stations and Monitor VI pagers.
An estimated $36,000 was allocated to social services for two new vehicles, but only $13,523 would come from county funds; the balance is expected to be generated through state and federal funding.
Employee’s Cost of Living
Oakley recommended a four percent cost of living increase equivalent to $550,650 for all full and part-time employees effective July 14, 2018.
“This begins the process of making Stokes County more competitive with our workforce and hopefully relieve some of the turnover pressures we have experienced in certain departments.”
Oakley noted, Stokes County has been working with RiverStreet Communications to provide digital communications (internet) and has made great strides establishing its core base.
“When completed, it will support the branching out to unserved areas of the county. Stokes County has provided funding in the amount of $1.8 million over a three year period amounting to $600,000 annually. This is the final year of payment.”
Board of Education
The current expense budget request from Stokes Board of Education for fiscal year 2018/19 county funding was $13,374,796. Oakley said this is a $2,405,998 increase over last year’s approved budget. Factors contributing to the request were teacher positions, salary increases, supplement pay, matching technology grants, utility cost, bus operations and school resource officers.
His recommendation for the school’s current expense fund is $12,145,559, a $1,176,761 increase over last year.
The school’s capital outlay request of county funding came in at $2,016,811, a $516,011 increase over last year’s approved budget. Oakley said factors contributing to the deficit were Mount Olive Elementary roof replacement, Sandy Ridge Elementary new roof, Chestnut Grove Middle air conditioning for the gym, repaving parking lots at schools and an agricultural building at West Stokes.
Oakley’s recommendation for the school’s capital outlay is $1,888,000, a $379,200 increase over the 2017/18 budget.
“I realize my recommended budget reflects a significant reduction in the original request by the board of education. With these reductions, neither the board of county commissioners, nor I can say what can or cannot be funded in current expense or capital outlay. I do believe that the school board will make appropriate adjustments in their budget that is in the best interest of our students and school faculty.”
The board of commissioners are slated to hold budget work sessions before the county budget is passed and the community is encouraged to attend. The meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, June 6 at 1 p.m., Monday, June 11 at 1:30 p.m., a public hearing for citizen input concerning the 2018/19 fiscal year proposed budget Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m., joint meeting with the board of education Wednesday, June 13 at 3 p.m., Monday, June 18 at 1 p.m., Tuesday, June 19 at 3p.m., Wednesday, June 20 at 1:30 and Friday, June 22 at 3 p.m.
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.