Alamance County’s manager has unveiled a proposed budget that recommends 10 new staff-level positions, pay raises as high as 5 percent, outlays on equipment and vehicles, and the restoration of funds to many programs sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic – all without any increase in the county’s property tax rate.
All told, the spending plan which county manager Bryan Hagood presented to the county’s board of commissioners on Monday calls for some $222,967,944 in expenditures for the financial cycle which begins on July 1 of this year.
This suggested spending plan includes some $185 million in outlays from the county’s general fund, which relies on revenue from various taxes and fees in order to bankroll most of the county’s programs and services. Hagood acknowledged that he had to trim about $5.1 million from the $190 million in spending requests that the general fund had received in order to maintain the county’s property tax rate of 67 cents for every $100 of property value. Yet thanks to auspicious revenue projections, the manager’s proposed outlays for the general fund amount to an increase of about $17 million, or nearly 10.2 percent, over the $168 million budget that the commissioners adopted last June – when fears about the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic were still running high.
Hagood told the commissioners that the county’s own departments and services account for some $102 million of the general fund’s expenditures in his proposed spending plan. The county manager said that the county’s allocation for the Alamance-Burlington school system would eat up nearly another $46.8 million of the general fund’s expenditures. He added that his recommendations for the school system include everything that its administrators had sought “in their revised request” to the county. Hagood went on to add that capital expenditures for the county, the school system, and Alamance Community College would cumulatively consume $27 million or so of the general fund’s proposed budget.
The county manager also provided some additional details about the county’s own share of the general fund’s recommended outlays. He noted that his proposed spending plan calls for 10 new positions as well as the restoration of 28 other full-time posts that had been frozen due to pandemic-related belt-tightening and decreases in workload.
The positions which Hagood proposes to “thaw” out include 11 posts in the department of social services and 14 in Alamance County’s jail, which witnessed a precipitous drop in its inmate population at the height of the pandemic. His budget also recommends filling three more frozen full-time posts in other county departments. Meanwhile, Hagood’s prospective new hires include a new 9-1-1 operator, administrative assistants for the county clerk and the county’s veterans services office, a new GIS mapping technician, a “park technician” to manage the recreation department’s land holdings, a new county planner, and four school resource officers, including a supervisor with the rank of sergeant.
Hagood went on to recommend an outlay of $877,359 to cover a 5-percent “cost of living adjustment” for the deputies, jailers, and school resource officers who work under Alamance County’s sheriff. Hagood also proposed a 2-percent cost-of-living raise for other county employees – with a total cost to the county of $650,851. Meanwhile, he set aside another $549,187 to offer an additional merit-based increase of up to 2 percent to people on the county’s payroll, other than the sheriff’s sworn staff.
The county manager conceded that these requested pay raises, especially those for the sheriff’s subordinates, are more generous than what county staff members usually get – which he added is why he isn’t proposing a merit-based increase for the sheriff’s office.
“Five percent for county government is, from my perspective, a pretty big change,” he added.
Prior to last year’s COVID-squeezed budget, a 2-percent merit based raise had been an annual expectation for the county’s rank-and-file staff members. This financial pat on the back was initially cut from the budget that the commissioners adopted last June – only to be put back in January thanks to the county’s better-than anticipated sales tax receipts. At the county manager’s urging, the commissioners agreed to make this restored merit-based raise retroactive to the anniversary of each employee’s start date.
During Hagood’s presentation on Monday, commissioner Pam Thompson made a personal pitch on behalf of sheriff’s deputies and other “front-line” employees, who she said deserve extra remuneration just for showing up to work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we’re going to feel good about giving a raise,” she added, “I want it to be a…serious raise.”
Hagood proceeded to touch on his proposed budget’s recommendations for external agencies and organizations that receive funds from the county. He noted that this plan is the first in “a long time” to include some additional groups in this roster – namely Crossroads and Family Abuses Services, which both assist victims of domestic violence and other crimes.
The county manager also briefed the commissioners on the revenue sources that he expects to use to cover the general fund’s proposed allocations.
The county manager said that the county’s tax office expects property tax revenue to go up by about $3.5 million from the previous year He added that one cent on the property tax rate is expected to bring in $1,533,571 in the next fiscal year.
Hagood proceeded to point out that 7.04 cents of the county’s 67-cent tax rate has been set aside for the capital needs of the Alamance-Burlington school system and Alamance Community College – a large part of which has been earmarked for the debt payments on revenue bonds that were formally issued last month. Another .96 cents of the tax rate has been earmarked for the county’s own capital needs, which include an armada of new vehicles and equipment as well as the debt payments on capital purchases from previous years.
Although Hagood’s proposed budget didn’t call for a property tax hike for the county as a whole, he did acknowledge that the Snow Camp rural fire department has requested a 3-cent increase in the 9.5-cent levy that property owners in its service district must currently pay. The county manager noted that this requested bump in the fire district’s tax rate still needs the blessing of the board of commissioners before it can take effect.
Hagood added that the $35.9 million which his proposed budget anticipates in sales taxes is nearly $11.3 more than the projections the county was using a year ago. He nevertheless acknowledged that his budget’s predicted sales tax receipts omit a potential 2.1 percent increase that he said the N.C. League of Municipalities has encouraged the state’s local governments to use in forecasting their sales tax revenues for the next fiscal year.
“We do not feel comfortable recommending that high a revenue for sales tax,” the county manager conceded.
The county manager noted that his proposed budget draws on $1.7 million in savings that are already earmarked for their intended uses as well as another $2 million in “unassigned” dollars from the general fund’s financial reserves as a bookkeeping tool in order to balance the budget. Hagood added, however, that the county’s reliance on this “unassigned fund balance” has dropped off considerably from the $6.6 million that was penciled into the budget four years ago.
“You can see…that we’ve gradually decreased the amount of unassigned fund balance we use to balance the budget,” he went on to stress. “The goal has been for us to wean ourselves from using unassigned fund balance [for this purpose].”
Hagood urged the commissioners to hold the state-mandated public hearing on his proposed budget during their next regularly-scheduled gathering on June 7. At the county manager’s behest, the commissioners rescheduled this meeting’s start time from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in order to “make it more open to the general public.”
Hagood also urged the commissioners to use their regular meeting chambers for this upcoming hearing. He observed that the repeal of most pandemic-related restrictions will allow the county to make full use of this space as well as the adjacent courtroom that has traditionally served as the board’s overflow area. Hagood added that, if turnout proves particularly high, the commissioners can always recess their meeting and reconvene in the county’s historic courthouse just up the street.
Read the newspaper’s editorial opinion of the manager’s proposed budget, “County manager’s budget: something for just about everyone – except the beleaguered taxpayer”: https://alamancenews.com/county-managers-budget-something-for-just-about-everyone-except-the-beleaguered-taxpayer/