Friday, April 19, 2024

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County mgr. proposes budget with 6.7% tax hike above “revenue neutral” estimate

Alamance County’s manager has unveiled a spending plan for the new fiscal year that includes a property tax rate roughly 6.7 percent more than the much-discussed “revenue neutral” level needed to break even after the county’s latest revaluation.

This proposed tax rate of 45.43 cents for every $100 of property is the centerpiece of the recommended budget that county manager Heidi York formally presented to the county’s board of commissioners on Monday night. (The revenue neutral level is estimated to be 42.59 cents.)

Although a reduction from the county’s current tax rate of 65 cents, York’s proposed levy is nevertheless 2.84 cents higher than the “revenue neutral” rate that the county’s tax office estimates will wipe out the financial windfall from this year’s revaluation, which saw the overall value of the county’s taxable real estate jump nearly 80 percent from the previous mass reassessment in 2017.

Alamance County manager Heidi York

“This is nearly a 20-cent reduction in your recommended tax rate for next year. And if the revaluation had not occurred, a tax increase might’ve been necessary to keep up with the cost escalations that we’ve experienced in our supplies, our contracts, and our utilities.”

– Alamance County manager Heidi York

The commissioners, for their part, have previously promised to adopt the revenue neutral rate when they adopt the county’s next budget later this spring. The county manager’s proposed rate may seem to throw a kink in this oft-stated pledge, although York argued that her recommendation is needed to pay for the various items that the commissioners themselves have previously committed to funding. She also contrasted her recommendation with the county’s current property tax rate of 65 cents.

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“This is nearly a 20-cent reduction in your recommended tax rate for next year,” she added. “And if the revaluation had not occurred, a tax increase might’ve been necessary to keep up with the cost escalations that we’ve experienced in our supplies, our contracts, and our utilities.”

Read our editorial on the county manager’s budget performance: “Looks like it’s time for taxpayers to get out the pitch forks, tar, feathers, & rail”:

York told the commissioners that a rate of 45.43 cents would raise some $114 million toward the county’s programs and services – or $10 million more than the property tax currently generates and $7 million over the predicted yield from a revenue neutral levy of 42.59 cents. According to the county’s tax office, a penny on the current tax rate of 65 cents generates $2,514,301.

York conceded that her proposed rate would translate to an additional $15 a year on the property tax bill of a typical homeowner with a $200,000 residence. At the same time, York emphasized that the proposed figure would still leave the county with the lowest tax rate in central North Carolina. York added that her proposed tax rate would forfeit $3.8 million in property tax revenue from motor vehicles, which weren’t subject to the county’s revaluation.

The funds that York hopes this proposed tax rate will generate would comprise just over half of the $217.5 million that she has allotted for the county’s general fund, which relies on a variety of taxes and fees to pay for most of the county’s programs and services. York added that this figure represents an increase of $14.2 million, or about 7.02 percent, over the general fund’s current budget.

York told the commissioners that her plan for the general fund includes $1.7 million in pay raises that were given to the sheriff’s office in the middle of the current financial cycle. Her budget also accommodates an additional $771,000 for a food services contract at Alamance County’s jail, $84,000 in extra youth detention expenses, $2.3 million for various capital projects, $300,000 for a new rail cargo hub in Mebane, and $400,000 for infrastructure at the Burlington-Alamance Airport. She noted that another $201,000 has been set aside to cover an anticipated increase of nearly 19 percent and $121,000 for a 12.12 percent hike in gasoline and other vehicular expenses.

York added that, in order to keep costs as manageable as possible, she slashed roughly $18.6 million from the budget requests that the county’s departments and agencies had submitted this year. She added that, of the 37 positions the county’s department heads have requested, she’s merely recommending two new positions – a new school resource officer funded by the Alamance-Burlington school system and a equipment operator at the county landfill, which covers its own expenses using revenue that its operations bring in.

York said that she has also vetoed 11 of the 23 vehicles that the county’s departments have sought. Among those she has agreed to include in her budget are 10 new patrol cars for the sheriff’s office, and two new vehicles for emergency management and soil and water conservation.

[Story continues below some of the charts York presented to the commissioners on Monday.]


           Charts are as presented in County Manager’s Recommended Budget for 2023-2024

York also acknowledged that her budget sets some additional funding aside for county staff members. In particular, she pointed to a proposed cost-of-living adjustment that would add 5 percent to the wages of all full-time personnel. She also alluded to another 1 percent merit-based raise that’s expected to add about $336,000 to the bottom line.

York stressed that her budget pays for some of these personnel expenses by taking advantage of the high rate of openings in some county departments, such as the jail, which has a job vacancy rate of 25 percent, and social services, whose unfilled openings stand at 19 percent.

“We are seeing a lot of turnover to the counties that are paying higher rates among our neighbors,” the county manager added. “Should we enter into a hiring boom, we will come back to get additional funding for those positions.”

York went on to propose a salary study to address some of the compensatory imbalances that she said had compelled some county staff members to seek employment in other jurisdictions.

York proceeded to go over her recommendations for Alamance Community College and the Alamance-Burlington-school system.

In the case of the school system, York called for $51,259,221 to fund both the school system’s operations and its capital needs. She noted that this figure includes $49,106,123 for the school system’s operations – roughly $1.1 million more than the schools currently get from the county. She conceded that this proposed allocation falls short of the school system’s operational request of $50.8 million.

York added, however, that her budget fully covers the school system’s capital request of $3.3 million – not including another $1 million to renovate a ball field at one area school that appears in the manager’s suggested capital allocation for the county.

As for the community college, York proposed $4,029,682 for ACC’s operations – an increase of $96,336 from the current allocation, but considerably less than the college’s requested sum of $5.4 million. She added that her proposed allocation for ACC’s capital needs equals the college’s request of $536,000.

York advised the commissioners to hold a public hearing on her budget on June 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the county’s historic courthouse. She also proposed “work sessions” for the commissioners to delve into her recommendations at 2:00 p.m. on May 23 and June 6.

Commissioner Pam Thompson predicted that she and her colleagues will make full use of these two opportunities to mull over the budget.

“I’d say we’ll need both work sessions,” she added, “because I have a whole list of things [to discuss].”

York’s proposed county budget has the lowest percentage increase in property taxes (6.7%) compared to local cities and towns that have outlined budget proposals thus far that have ranged between 11% to more than 21%.

Cities to consider new tax rates much higher than “revenue neutral”:

Burlington +21%:

Elon + 14%:

Graham +20%:

Mebane +11%:

PLUS: Our editorial page views on municipal tax rates announced thus far:

Burlington & Mebane:

Elon & Graham:

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