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Budget deficits vanish

GATESVILLE – Last month, Gates County local government faced dire financial trouble to the tune of over two million dollars.

Now, following long hours of work – searching for ways to cut costs – the county has a balanced budget without a tax hike and without having to implement a reduction in its local government workforce.

The county’s Board of Commissioners have called for a public hearing at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 30 at the Historic Courthouse. Following that required hearing, the commissioners are expected to approve the county’s FY 2020-21 budget, one that becomes effective on July 1.

If they do favor that proposal, it will take precedent over an interim budget they approved last month.

Board Chairman Ray Freeman stressed the amount of work that went into preparing the new budget, noting the glaring deficits over one month ago to now having a balanced spreadsheet that does not include an increase in property taxes.

“The options we were first given were very bleak,” he said. “We were in a big hole, about $2.1 million at the outset. I give Commissioner [Jonathan] Jones and our Finance Officer Kim Outland the highest praise for taking us to a balanced budget.

“There was a lot of creativity, a lot of critical thinking, in building this budget,” Freeman added. “At one time we were talking about having to furlough some of our county employees; then we talked about a reduction in our workforce. Thankfully, with a lot of hard work, we were able to avoid those things and come up with a workable budget.”

Freeman praised the efforts of Jones.

“He took a lead role [in locating ways to trim the budget] and led us to where we are today,” Freeman stressed.

While Jones shunned the spotlight, he did mentioned how proud he and his board colleagues are in the fact that the proposed new budget does not contain an increase in local property taxes nor does it furlough any county employees.

County Manager Natalie Rountree made it official by reading the FY 20-21 Budget Ordinance into the record. That ordinance is highlighted by no change to the property tax rate (still at 79 cents per $100 of value).

She said the total budget is $16,383,771 of which $12,298,997 is General Fund.

To balance the bottom line, Rountree said the budget uses in excess of $777,000 of funds transferred from other accounts. The majority of that transferred money ($534,730) comes from the School Capital Reserve Fund. Another $113,090 came from interest from the Sterling Loan while $50,000 was transferred to the General Fund from the wastewater project.

Fund balance in the amount of $55,190 has also been allocated.

The main sources of revenue for the FY 20-21 budget are from taxes: $6.42 million in local property tax; $2.25 million in state sales tax; and $632,329 in motor vehicle taxes.

On the expenditure side of the General Fund, Gates County Public Schools tops the list with $2,808,000 in current expense money for 2020-21. This amount marks a $50,000 decrease over the current budget. Social Services is slated to receive $1,607,521 in the new budget (up from $1,553,124). The Sheriff’s Office is budgeted at $1,027,355 (slightly less than the current year at $1,029,500).

Other FY 20/21 expenditures include (with the current year funding shown in parenthesis):

Administration and Finance: $575,864 ($413,085)

Tax Department: $317,450 ($293,608)

Elections: $137,288 ($138,502)

Register of Deeds: $128,887 ($128,832)

Building & Grounds: $404,063 ($403,752)

Jail: $270,000 (no change)

Emergency Management: $498,850 ($493,250)

Rescue Squad: $812,000 (no change)

Community Center: $231,575 ($243,763)

Cooperative Extension: $206,722 ($199,299)

As part of the proposed budget ordinance are two changes to the fee schedule: a $40 reconnect fee to an account where the water has been disconnected, and a reduction of the solid waste fee (from $240 to $120 annually) for those who can provide proof that they are paying for a private individual to haul off their trash.

Rountree noted that the new budget does not include any salary increases per the salary study or merit increases.

The county has opted to allow its employees a choice with health insurance. The county will pay 100% of the employee’s insurance at the base plan, which is an increase of 15% from FY20. Employees who select Option 2, an increase of 22%, or option 3, an increase of 31%, will be required to pay a portion of their insurance.

“I would like to express my appreciation to the Board of County Commissioners for their participation and input in the budget process as well as to department directors and agency leadership for budget submission in a timely manner,” Rountree said.

While there will not be any merit raises for the county’s local government employees, Jones did offer an alternative way to express the board’s appreciation for their hard work.

“All the commissioners are onboard this year with donating some of our personal money to fund a county employee Christmas party,” Jones said. “I would like to see us shut down all county offices for a couple of hours on a day in December and let us, the commissioners, put on a catered luncheon at the Community Center.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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