BY KARISSA MILLER

Iredell County commissioners reviewed the $230.3 million budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year during two budget workshops this week.

Weighing heavily on commissioners was the potential toll that the COVID-19 pandemic could have on the county’s revenue streams.

The major unknowns include: How much revenue will be lost due to the stay at home order? Will the county see a resurgence of the coronavirus in the fall? What would a second wave cost the county? Will this event cause the N.C. General Assembly to rethink sales tax redistribution to counties?

Current Budget

While these concerns framed the budget discusses, Finance Director Deb Cheek brought the board up to speed on the impact COVID-19 has had on the current budget.

The county is projecting a $4.2 million shortfall in sales tax revenue for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Cheek said the county can manage the shortfall through lapsed salaries and unused merit pay. Each year the board provides funds to cover all positions, some of which remain vacant for a period of time. 

Other revenue shortfall for FY 2020 include:
• Development Fees: 23 percent reduction in fees or $1.5 million
• Recreation Fees: 51 percent reduction in fees of $400,845.

Since April, the county has frozen all expenses except those deemed essential. They also made cuts to the Parks and Recreation Department budget.

“Spending for this year has drastically been reduced. I’m signing very little purchase orders right now,” Cheek explained. “We cut all traveling, training and education. Anything we knew would not be spent we tried to take that and move it to next year … to make this year’s budget a little easier.”

As a result of that belt tightening, county officials expect to add $962,970 to the fund balance.

Cheek said this will put the ending fund balance at 18.9 percent of next year’s proposed budget.

20020-2021 Budget

The board has agreed to use $280,000 from the county’s fund balance — which operates like a savings account — to fund two capital projects in the upcoming 2021 budget.

• Fairgrounds Master Plan: $250,000
• Planning Grant Match: $30,000
• TOTAL: $280,000

Commissioner Ken Robertson expressed his appreciation of previous county commissioners and their good management of the county’s fund balance account.

The current board may need to tap into its savings to sustain county operations if the coronavirus pandemic goes on longer than anticipated.

“We may have to dig into that fund balance not for capital projects, but to keep this county going for the next 12 months,” Robertson said. “We can’t hemorrhage for 12 months. We can bleed a little bit for 12 months because that won’t change anything.”

According to Cheek, revenues that are projected to be reduced in the 2021 budget include:
• Sales Tax: $1.03 million
• Development fees: $1.17 million
• Recreation fees: $141,638
• Investment earnings: $500,000
• Property tax revenues have also been adjusted downward to indicate a 5.85 increase as opposed to 6.03 percent increase.

The county will implement measures to offset budget shortfalls, including strategically holding vacant positions and transfers in savings from capital project funds.

Cheek said closing out the public safety complex project and jail project will provide needed funds for some capital projects. The public safety complex will bring in approximately $1.1 million and the jail project $1.2 million.

The county will retain the same levels of service, but has eliminated expenditures to ensure budget stability.

There are no raises or salary scale adjustments for all county employees, including county commissioners, which were discussed at the winter retreat. 

County Manager Beth Jones received requests from department heads for 27 new full-time and four part-time positions. She recommended filling nine new positions in the budget.

The position includes transitioning a part-time GIS Mapping tech to a full-time position due to the size of the county and to ensure that GIS information is accurate as possible. The new positions include:

♦ Converting janitorial services into two full-time day porters at the Health Department, Animal Services and Cooperative Extension facilities. Jones said that the level of cleaning required is great and it will virtually amount to the same amount by bringing the services in-house.

♦ Three telecommunicators in the Emergency Communications Department. According to Assistant County Manager Joseph Pierce, these new positions will allow ECOM to begin monitoring tactical channels for departmental interoperability and will help address the high call volume.

♦ ECOM also requested a Technical Support Specialist to assist in the Computer Aided Dispatch or CAD programming.

♦ An administrative support assistant in Building Standards. The position will ensure that the county’s online offerings are up to date and services do not suffer.

♦  One School Resource Officer for the Sheriff’s Office. Iredell-Statesville Schools will cover 10 months of salary and benefits and the county will cover the other two months.

Budget at a Glance

The proposed Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget will increase spending to $230.3 million, up from $222.6 million in 2019-2020. This is 3.46 percent increase over the current budget.

The tax rate will increase one-cent to $0.5375 per $100 valuation. The increase is the result of the voter-approved school capacity bond.

The budget is based on a tax base of $26.6 billion and a collection rate of 98.91 percent.

Property owners will also notice the new 9 cent all county fire tax. This tax was established to help with apparatus replacement and other purchase items while sustaining the 19 contracted volunteer fire departments.

General Fund Proposed Budget Expenditures
• Education: 44.28 percent
• Public Safety: 21.26 percent
• Human Services: 14.6 percent
• General Government: 8.9 percent
• Capital Improvement Funding: 3.90 percent
• Cultural and Recreational: 2.28 percent
• Development Services: 2.08 percent
• Debt Service: 1.03 percent

Largest Revenue Sources
The two largest funding sources the county’s operations comes from:
• Ad Valorem property taxes: 62.44 percent
• Local Option Sales Tax: 16.57 percent

The Board of County Commissioners will conduct a public budget hearing and vote to formally adopt the budget in June.

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