Monday, June 17, 2024

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Commissioners will work to cut down on manager’s budget during special session

Alamance County’s commissioners may put some extra fine points on their pencils this morning as they prepare to hack away at the county manager’s proposed budget during a special-called meeting later today.

But as they cast about for items to cross off of this spending plan, the commissioners could also come under pressure to restore some of the departmental spending requests that county manager Heidi York had deemed fit to omit from her recommended expenditures for the new fiscal year.

York had previously informed the commissioners that she had left out roughly $19.8 million in requested outlays from her proposed budget for the county’s general fund – a repository for various taxes and fees that bankrolls most of the county’s operations.

According to York’s presentation to the commissioners on May 20, her proposed budget excluded 35 new full-time positions and one part-time post that various county departments had sought – at a potential cost of more than $2.1 million to the general fund. In the meantime, she dispensed with 17 proposed promotions and “reclassifications” that would’ve set the fund back an additional $106,137.

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York went on to concede that she had sloughed off many of the new vehicles requested by the county’s departments and agencies, while she shifted a proposed allocation of 16 new patrol cars for the sheriff’s department from the general fund to a separate account that’s reserved for the county’s capital expenditures.

According to the county’s budget management office, York’s budget makes use of this transfer to provide the entire $968,000 that the sheriff’s office has sought for these replacement vehicles – a roughly 82 percent increase from his allowance for new patrol cars in this fiscal year.

Even so, sheriff Terry Johnson insists that he wouldn’t have had to request so many new sets of wheels if not for a new policy that the commissioners enacted last summer which specifies the maximum mileage and other criteria that the county would use to determine which vehicles it out to retire.”

“They passed a policy that says a car with 125,000 miles comes off the road,” Johnson recalled in an interview Wednesday, “and if they hadn’t passed that policy we wouldn’t have to take them off the road. If those vehicles get into an accident, guess who has to pay the liability?! Me!”

In addition to shifting around Johnson’s vehicle allowance, the county manager also shaved a combined sum of $510,068 from the sheriff’s other operational requests, which included funds for “small tools” like handguns, vehicle maintenance, and non-permanent salaries.

Particularly galling to Johnson has been the elimination of $280,413 for body-worn cameras – a increasingly indispensable part of the law enforcement tool kit that, until recently, the sheriff’s office had been loathe to adopt.

“The insurance companies said they would go up on the insurance if we didn’t have body cameras,” the sheriff went on to lament this omission, “because we’d be more liable to get sued [without them].”

In defense of her decision to exclude this particular line item, York told The Alamance News that she was under the impression that Johnson had an alternate source of funds for these cameras.

“We removed that with the idea that the sheriff is applying for a grant to cover it,” she went on to explain.

In any event, the sheriff’s office seems to have fared somewhat better than some other county departments in York’s proposed budget.

Perhaps least generous treatment has been meted out to the county’s department of social services, whose overall request for $25.5 million was pared back by about $2.3 million – including some $2 million in existing payroll expenses that have been shed by assuming that DSS will maintain its relatively high vacancy rate into the next fiscal year.

York uses this same reasoning to strike $584,821 from the requested outlay for Emergency Medical Services and $636,386 from the sheriff’s proposed budget for Alamance County’s jail. These two agencies have been further docked in their requests to replace vehicles and equipment, which have been pared back by $351,300 for EMS and $183,152 in the case of the jail. York has held back another $301,527 from the county’s recreation department, whose jettisoned spending requests include $190,000 in vehicles and equipment as well as $5,000 to subsidize the North Carolina Symphony.

The cutting room floor also contains $316,288 in requests from the county’s library system, whose rejected outlays largely consist of personnel-related recommendations, although $9,000 has also been knocked off the system’s proposed allocation for new books.

The county manager had ultimately deep-sixed these sundry departmental proposals in order to keep her budget’s recommended property tax hike within 2 pennies of the existing rate of 43.2 cents for every $100 of value.

The commissioners, for their part, have indicated a reluctance to authorize any increase in this levy, which is already about 3/5 of a cent greater than the “revenue neutral,” or break even rate, that the county’s tax office had calculated after the county’s latest property tax revaluation in 2023.

Johnson, who has publicly called on the commissioners to increase this rate, conceded that he’ll ultimately make do with whatever the county’s governing board decides to throw his way.

“Anything is better than nothing,” he told The Alamance News on Wednesday.

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