Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Macon County Manager Derek Roland’s $52 million budget proposal that he presented to the commissioners last week takes into account a property revaluation, growing demands in public education, and a need to invest in the county’s infrastructure. In order to meet the needs of the county, Roland recommended a modest tax increase, the first for the county in a decade outside of generating a revenue neutral budget.
Macon County’s current tax rate is .00349 or 34.9 cents per $100 valuation of a home meaning for a $100,000 in the county (not including city taxes) homeowners pay $349 a year in taxes. If the county were to pass a revenue neutral budget with a tax rate of .003561 or 35.61 cents as in year’s past, that same homeowner would be looking at paying $356.10 per year in taxes. Under the manager’s proposed budget the tax rate would be .003694 or 36.94 cents, one of the lowest rates in the state. At the proposed rate an individual owning a $100,000 home would pay $369.40 cents in taxes, essentially a $20 a year increase in taxes.
Based on the current tax collection rate in Macon County, the proposed tax increase would generate an additional $1,050,000 in revenue for services within the county. According to Roland, this amount is needed to cover increased funding for Operations ($500,000) Technology ($300,000), and Annual Capital Outlay ($250,000) in the School System’s Budget.
In addition to the increase to the education budget, Roland presented commissioners with a proposal to address other top funding priorities such as public safety.
“The FY ’19-’20 budget continues to place high priority on the health and safety of our citizens,” said Roland. “The Public Safety function includes sheriff, courthouse security, Forest Service, jail, inspections/planning, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Management and Animal Control. In the coming year, public safety represents $15,469,580 or 29 percent of the general fund operating budget. This is a $1,507,947 or 10.8 percent increase over the FY ’18-’19 original budget.”
The public safety budget includes $296,945 for a new ambulance and $30,900 for a new vehicle for the Macon County Detention Center.
“We have made great strides in replacing sheriff’s department vehicles over the past five years as 13 of 24 road vehicles have been replaced,” said Roland. “In FY ’19-’20, three new Police Pursuit SUVs will be purchased at a cost of $92,700. This will bring the total amount of road vehicles replaced over the past five years to 15 (one vehicle is currently five years old and will go to six) and reduce average mileage in the road fleet from 73,589 to approximately 51,797.”
Roland also proposed adding two telecommunication positions at the dispatch center to account for the increase in calls experienced throughout the county.
“From 2016- 2018 total CAD [computer-aided dispatch] calls have averaged 34,445 annually,” explained Roland. ”While the annual number of calls has remained consistent during this time period, the number of calls falling within hourly time-frames has increased. During 2018, the number of calls received within these timeframes was consistent with those experienced during the wildfires of 2016. The increased call volume has resulted in shorter call durations and “time to answer statistics under 10 seconds” consistently dropping below the 95 percent threshold for quality established for our Emergency Management Service.”
The new positions will increase staffing levels during the peak call times of 7 a.m.- 10 a.m. from 2 to 3 dispatchers and 10 a.m.-7 p.m from 3 to 4 dispatchers.
In addition to a new ambulance for emergency services, Roland proposed the addition of a full-time paramedic position to accommodate an increase in calls as well as an uptick in the number of out-of-county trips paramedics are having to conduct.
One way the county is able to balance the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is by decreasing the cost of living adjustment (COLA) given to county employees. Historically, county employees receive a two percent COLA when the budget allows. This year however, that has been cut to 1.5 percent, freeing up revenue in the budget to hire the new positions needed.
The county’s budget allocation for the Department of Social Services and Senior Services is increasing by more than a quarter of a million dollars in the proposed budget to fill in gaps made by a reduction in state funds for those departments.
“The FY ’19-’20 DSS and Senior Services budget will increase by $351,715 in the coming fiscal year,” said Roland. “$224,410 of this amount is representative of an increase in the county funding level. Current challenges to service delivery within the department have included: Reduced state and federal allocations in Adult Welfare Services; significant NC FAST programming set-backs in Child Welfare case management software programs; and increasing impact from the nationwide opioid crisis on child welfare. The increased level of funding in FY ’19-’20 will allow for steps to be taken to help address these challenges.”
Roland informed commissioners that his proposed budget will allow the county to continue providing high quality services to the citizens of Macon County at one of the lowest tax rates in the state and without compromise to our strong financial position.
In the coming fiscal year our fund balance will be preserved, leaving us well prepared should we decide to move forward with those projects identified as priorities within the results of the on-going capital projects planning phase,” he said.