County expected to vote on $105.6 million budget; tax rate stable

Published 7:03 am Monday, June 5, 2023

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

County commissioners are expected to vote on a $105.6 million budget when they meet at 6 p.m. tonight (Monday). A public hearing is part of the process.

The budget recommendation from County Manager Brian Barnett does not include a property tax rate increase, which will remain at .773 cents per $100 property valuation.

“The budget is by no means flashy, but maintains expected service levels, continues sufficient funding for education, and shows continued commitment to public health and safety,” Barnett wrote in his budget message to commissioners.

His recommendations come after a four-month process when department heads were given revenue and operation projections to make their budgets. Commissioners held three workshops discussing the budget. Barnett reported he had cut $10 million from the original requests.

Barnett said the county is fortunate to have new development and increased property values, but that has to be balanced against inflation. “The county must maintain fiscal discipline as inflationary costs are increasing faster than the natural growth of the county’s tax base.”

Water and sewer customers will see a 4.5 percent increase in bills, part of a staggered rate increase to help pay for infrastructure improvements.

The budget includes using $2.3 million from the appropriated fund balance, potentially dipping it to below 16 percent, when the county has a policy of maintaining a 25 percent fund balance. “Throughout the upcoming fiscal year, county staff will monitor expenses and revenues in the anticipation of not having to actually use fund balance, and increase the overall amount of fund balance by June 30, 2024,” Barnett said.

County employees will receive a 1 percent increase in pay, with all being eligible for an additional 2% increase in merit pay. The budget includes three new full-time positions, although 39 were requested. One of the new employees will be a state qualified water quality testing technician, and the other two are in Social Services, created by the state expanding Medicaid (75% reimbursed). The part-time employee will work with technology at health and human services. The county will have 408 full-time and 147 part-time employees.

While the fire tax of .04 cents will remain, the budget would have the county establishing a new “fire fund” that would include the transfer of the equivalent of .07 cents.

“This is not a new tax,but a more fiscally sound procedure for countywide volunteer fire funding,” he wrote. “Property tax bills will continue to look the same. Even with this change in funding, the county recognizes this funding model primarily covers the current personnel and operational needs of the volunteer fire departments and new revenue sources will beed to be assessed to address future capital expenses.”

A full copy of Barnett’s message and the proposed budget is available on the county’s website.