SAM_0190Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Wesley’s playground stands as the most utilized park in Macon County, with dozens of families visiting it on a daily basis throughout the year. The park has seen minor repairs in recent years, but with the frequency of usage, the park and playground has suffered considerable damage that County Manager Derek Roland says has become a safety hazard for the community.

“The playground at Wesley’s Park is heavily utilized by local families,” said Roland. “Currently the playground is in a dilapidated state. Much of the equipment is broken and the rubberized ground covering has deteriorated substantially. Wesley’s Park in its current state places an extreme liability on Macon County.”

To address the condition of Wesley’s Park, Roland included $70,000 in his proposed budget for 2016-17. The funds proposed will be used to address the deteriorating rubber matting throughout the park as well as upgrade and renovate the playground equipment that has gone untouched over the last few years.

“The youth of Macon County deserve to have a place they can go and enjoy the outdoors that is safe and fun,” said Roland. “This is the first step in improving one of Macon County’s most popular parks.”

Improvements to Wesley’s Playground is just one of the proposed capital projects identified in Roland’s budget proposal, which he submitted to Macon County commissioners on TuesdaySAM_0189 night. Roland’s balanced budget totals out at $47,694,248, with projected expenditures increasing by $1,047,891 over the current year’s original budget. The expenditure increase finalizes the county’s organizational pay plan, completes much needed capital improvements to the infrastructure of the county, and continues to ensure that Macon County citizens are provided with efficient and effective public services.

The more than $1 million increase in expenditures will come without an increase to the tax rate in Macon County, but instead is possible through minimal projected increase in sales tax receipts, combined with an increase in tax collections from last fiscal year. With Macon County’s property revaluation being completed, the county’s ad valorem property tax collection produced an increase in revenue of $760,208, a 3 percent increase over last year. The increase is directly attributed to the county’s tax office conservatively budgeting a higher percentage of appeals than actually received, according to Roland.

SAM_0188The county also increased revenues in terms of motor vehicle tax collection. With a collection rate of 99.9 percent due to North Carolina’s implementation of the tag and tax program, Macon County saw an increase in revenue of $133,939.

Roland’s proposed budget focuses on finishing the employee pay plan study that was started in 2012, and the budget reflects increases in salaries and benefits that came as a result of the study being completed. The salary adjustments proposed in the budget will alleviate pay compression as recognized by a committee assembled by the county. The proposed salary adjustments place Macon County in line with regional expectations and can be budgeted without a tax increase to Macon County citizens. Last year, 37.5 percent, or $17,889,112 of the county’s overall budget was spent on employee salary and benefits. The proposed budget includes $18,696,397 for salary and benefits, which reflects the pay study adjustments.

Capital items in the county’s general fund includes $60,685 for the Macon County Sheriff’s Office to purchase one SUV and one sedan to add to the county fleet; $90,000 for EMS to complete an ambulance remount; and $373,975 for six transit lift vans, which will be 90 percent funded by a grant. The total amount of capital fund projects budgeted for the fiscal year sits at $1,767,275.

Departments across the county will be able to add positions if commissioners approve Roland’s budget. Positions include a full time administrative assistant for Macon County Solid Waste, a full time administrative position for Civil Processing, a full time HR specialist, a full time building inspector in the Planning, Permitting, and Development department, a part time consumer science agent in Cooperative Extension and two part time workers in Department of Social Services Senior Services.

At the request of commissioners, Roland budgeted for a $200,000 increase to the Macon County School System’s capital outlay fund, bringing that fund to $500,000. The increase will bring the district’s capital outlay fund to 2010 levels and will allow the school system the needed funds to maintain and improve buildings and grounds across the school system. Roland’s budget also includes $6,995,431 for the school system’s local operating expenses. While that line item is a decrease over the current year, Roland noted that the local expense budget was able to be reduced due to North Carolina fully funding state required education initiatives such as teacher assistants and driver’s education. With additional state funds, the school system has been able to begin building their fund balance, allowing the county to shift local operating expense dollars to the district’s capital outlay fund.

“The proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-17 will enhance the level of public service without compromising the strong financial position of this organization,” said Roland. “This could not have been accomplished without the hard work and willingness to compromise shown by all Macon County department heads during budget discussions.”

The  commissioners will hold a budget work session on Tuesday, May 31, at 4 p.m. A public hearing will be held at the regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday, June 14, at 6 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the commissioners boardroom in the Macon County courthouse