Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Macon County Manager Derek Roland presented the board of commissioners with a proposed budget Tuesday night totaling $49,587,927 with revenues and expenditures being balanced at a property tax rate of 34.9 cents per $100 of property valuation, which is the same rate as this year.
Roland’s budget addressed needs within various departments within the county and includes an increased $1,891,178 in expenditures, without raising taxes on residents.
“At this level of expenditures we will continue to provide efficient and effective public services to the citizens of Macon County while beginning to plan for future improvements,” said Roland. “An increase in sales tax receipts, combined with an increase in tax collections from the prior fiscal year, will enable us to accomplish each of these things with no recommended increase to the ad-valorem tax rate and no use of fund balance. The FY ’17-’18 recommended budget includes a contingency fund of $125,000 which is solely attributable to projected revenues exceeding projected expenditures.”
Roland broke down each county department and went line item by line item to thoroughly explain both revenues and expenditure expectations for the coming fiscal year.
“The FY ’17-’18 budget will allow us to continue providing high quality services to the citizens of Macon County at one of the lowest tax rates in the state,” said Roland. “Although $2,111,894 in capital items has been recommended in the FY ’17-’18 budget, no appropriation of fund balance will be necessary and funding to priority areas including education and public safety will not be compromised. Furthermore, a contingency fund of $125,000 will ensure that we are prepared for any unexpected events that might occur. This budget could not have been accomplished without the hard work and willingness to compromise shown by all Macon County department heads during budget discussions. As required by state statute, the budget is balanced with revenues and expenditures of $49,587,927 and is hereby submitted for your review and consideration.”
Budget proposal for 2017-18
The FY ’17-’18 budget continues to place high priority on the health and safety of our citizens. In the coming year, public safety represents $13,490,802 or 27.2% of the general fund operating budget. This level of expenditures represents a 7.6% or $950,556 increase over the FY ’16-’17 original budget.
Emergency Communications System Upgrade
In FY ’17-’18 Macon County Emergency Management will be moving forward with the upgrade to the emergency communications system. The aging system has created numerous communication problems for end users including limited coverage area and the need for extensive end user interaction. These deficiencies with the current system were identified in the January 2014 Radio System Assessment conducted by Mission Critical Partners.
In the county buildings fund, $400,000 is budgeted for the first phase of this project in FY ’16-’17. Phase 1 was to consist of an upgrade to the transmission and reception equipment on five remote communication sites (Cowee Bald, Wine Springs Bald, Satulah Mountain, Scaly Mountain, and Dills Knob) and an upgrade to the equipment at the primary and back-up 9-1-1 centers (PSAP-Public Safety Answering Points). These upgrades would establish connectivity between the remote communication sites and the end users using a microwave signal as opposed to the current analog system. Microwave connectivity will increase the coverage area and virtually eliminate the extensive end user interaction which the current analog system requires. In addition to communication site upgrades, phase 1 of the project also includes subscriber units (radios) for the 11 local fire departments to ensure that each department has an initial supply of communications equipment which will function effectively with the new system.
Macon County Emergency Management has placed great emphasis on the planning and preparation phase of this project in FY ’16-’17 to ensure that we receive the most effective solution at the best price possible. EM staff has worked with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to assess the possibility of utilizing their existing infrastructure where possible to improve coverage as opposed to upgrading county communication sites. In addition, Macon County has applied for a $1M FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant to assist with the communications upgrade. A final decision on this grant award is expected to be rendered in the very near future. Lastly, Macon County EM staff has been heavily involved with the Broadband Committee, and is assessing the possibility of using broadband to connect with remote tower locations as opposed to microwave as originally planned.
The extensive planning and preparation that has gone into this project in FY ’16-’17 could potentially yield a higher quality, more cost effective solution. As a result, the $400,000 appropriated for phase 1 will roll forward into FY ’17-’18.
The second phase of the project which includes the integration of Sheriff’s Department radio frequencies into the system as well as additional tower upgrades was slated to begin in FY ’17-’18. Phase 2, like Phase 1 was projected to cost $400,000. In FY ’17-’18 this additional $400,000 will be transferred to the county buildings fund satisfying the projected $800,000 total project cost.
Call volume in Macon County Emergency Services has increased by 11.1% over the past two years (6,087-6,765). Included in this increase is a growing number of transports to out-of-county facilities. EMS transported 869 patients to facilities outside of Macon County from October 2015 to September 2016. Of these 869 patients, 791 (91%) were taken to Mission Memorial in Asheville. Macon County EMS currently has five ambulances in operation 24/7 to meet this ever increasing demand – three in Franklin, one in Highlands, one in Nantahala.
In FY ’16-’17 the filling of vacant positions made it possible for shift supervisors to come off of the ambulances during their respective shifts. As a result of this change, shift supervisors can pair with the full-time training officer when needed to staff a fourth ambulance in the Franklin area. In addition, programs such as the Community Paramedic Program, which was implemented in January of 2015, serves as an in-home healthcare resource for high risk patients, thereby reducing the number of unnecessary EMS transports.
Staffing adjustments such as the aforementioned have led to increased departmental efficiency within Emergency Medical Services. The growing call volume combined with the growing number of transports to out-of-county facilities however, will lead to an increase in the part-time and overtime line items in FY ’17-’18.
Rate Increase Update
EMS billing rates will be adjusted in FY ’17-’18 following a steady increase in Medicare allowable charges such as base transport and mileage rates. Rates were adjusted as opposed to an increase in funding from the General Fund to help balance the financial responsibility of service provision between the taxpayers and the EMS customers. The rate increases will result in a projected revenue increase for FY ’17-’18 of approximately $243,293 or 19.4% above the FY ’16-’17 original budget amount.
Fire Task Force
From 2015-2016, total calls for service to Macon County Fire Departments increased by 17% while the number of volunteers increased by less than 1%. Of the 5,554 calls for service in 2016, 951 were fire related which requires the response of multiple fire personnel beyond the 1-2 people required for a medical call. The Macon County Fire Task Force will be created to serve as a resource to all volunteer fire departments in Macon County in an effort to assist them with the rapidly increasing demand for service.
Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe will oversee the operations of the Fire Task Force. The Task Force will consist of four full-time employees equipped with the necessary tools and equipment to perform their duties. These individuals will assist local fire departments as needed in responding to calls, data collection, purchasing, ISO inspections, public education activities etc. In FY ’17-’18 $229,048 has been budgeted to cover the operations of this department.
In 2016, patrol officers drove an estimated 797,986 miles while responding to a 16% increase in the number of calls from 2015 (14,034-16,334) according to figures published by the Macon County Sheriff’s Office. As demand increases and the fleet continues to age, the higher mileage patrol vehicles have become less reliable which has led to an increase in vehicle maintenance costs and a decrease in overall effectiveness. According to figures published by the Macon County Sheriff’s Department 50% of vehicles in the fleet are at or above 100,000 miles.
Six new AWD (all wheel drive) patrol SUV’s have been included in the FY ’17-’18 budget. Each vehicle will contain a new in-car camera as well as spike strip systems and “go bags” containing medical supplies, extra rifle clips and entry tools for “active shooter” and other hazardous situations. The total cost of the six new fully equipped vehicles is budgeted at $275,720.
The new car purchases will continue to help reduce overall mileage in the Sheriff’s Department fleet. Reducing overall mileage will lead to increased effectiveness and reliability while reducing maintenance costs. Roland strongly recommended that all lower mileage and new vehicles in the fleet be assigned to the patrol unit which currently averages 18,454 miles per vehicle per year. Higher mileage vehicles in the patrol unit could then be distributed to units such as Investigations, Civil Process, and School Resource Officers, that by nature place less demand on the vehicles. Rotating these vehicles will allow the Sheriff’s Department to maximize the capabilities of the existing fleet.
An increase in the number of arrests, combined with a growing number of investigations, transports and situations requiring the Special Response Team has led to a significant increase in overtime costs during FY ’16-’17. As of May 11, 2017, actual overtime costs have risen to $214,204.95 which is 23% above the FY ’16-’17 original budget amount. With no evidence to indicate a decline in these trends an additional $55,935 has been placed in the overtime budget for FY ’17-’18 bringing the total overtime budget to $230,002.
• Narcotic Unit Cases up 14% (2015-2016)
• Domestic violence Investigations up 127% (2015-2016)
• Drug Arrests up 50% (2015-2016)
• Total Arrests up 16% (2015-2016)
• Involuntary commitment transports up 9% (2015-2016)
• Special Response Team (called out 7 times in 2016)
**Figures provided by Macon County Sheriff’s Department**
The average population in the Macon County Detention Center increased approximately 18% from 2013-2016. This 18% increase is primarily attributable to a 157% increase in the female population during the same time period. The steadily increasing inmate population has led to increases in detention center operating costs such as medical care, food provision, out-of-county housing and part time and overtime salaries.
From FY ’13-’14 – FY ’15-’16 actual food costs in the Macon County Detention Center increased by 18% to $340,685. Thus, food service costs were budgeted at $360,000 in FY ’16-’17, which would have likely been met or exceeded.
During the current fiscal year however, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office has been successful in negotiating a food service contract with a new vendor which will reduce the price per meal by 50%. As a result, the food service line item will decrease by 35% in FY ’17-’18 to $232,594.
In FY ’12-’13 costs associated with inmate medical treatment reached an all-time high totaling $291,753. In August 2014, Macon County began contracting with Correction Risk Services or “CRS.” The company reviews each medical bill coming into Macon County Detention Center, challenging those that are erroneous, duplicated, etc. CRS also negotiates prices with numerous medical facilities on behalf of the Macon County Detention Center.
From 2015-2016 Macon County has recovered approximately $228,772 in medical costs through the work of CRS. While the savings have been substantial, inmate medical costs remain volatile and must continue to be monitored. In FY ’17-’18 this line item will remain at $175,000.
Detention Center Personnel Costs
The detention center added four full-time positions in FY ’16 bringing up the number of full-time staff to 21. These new positions combined with a decision made by Mission Hospital to begin providing oversight for patients who had been involuntarily committed, led to a substantial reduction in both the part time and overtime line items in the detention center budget.
To illustrate this impact, actual expenditures in FY ’14-’15 for full time salaries (including benefits), part time and overtime salaries in the detention center totaled $1,186,638. Following the addition of four full time positions in FY ’15-’16 actual expenditures within the aforementioned line items only increased by $8,187 to $1,194,825 as they were largely offset by the reduction to both the part-time and overtime lines.
In FY ’16-’17 $1,223,073 was budgeted for full-time salaries (including benefits), part time and overtime salaries. Transport to out-of-county housing however, is rapidly replacing the financial burden once placed upon this department by the involuntary commitment oversight requirement. As a result, projections for full time salaries (including benefits), part time and overtime salaries will be approximately $35,581 over budget at the end of FY ’16-’17; $36,572 of this projected overage is attributable to part-time salaries.
In FY ’17-’18 both the part-time and overtime line items within the detention center budget have been adjusted upward (by $26,400 and $7,400 respectively) from FY ’16-’17 to help offset the increases expected due to out-of- county housing costs in the coming fiscal year.
In addition to the increase in part-time and overtime line items, an increase in the number of inmates housed out of county will further result in a $240,000 increase to the out-of-county line item in the FY ’17-’18 Detention Center Budget.
The general government function of the operating budget is representative of service provision departments as well as internal service departments. Service provision departments are those departments such as Register of Deeds, Board of Elections and Tax/Mapping, whose primary role is to provide services to the citizens of Macon County. Internal service departments such as Information Technology, Garage and Maintenance play a support role to both the service provision departments in the general government function as well as those departments in Public Safety, Health and Human services, Transportation and Culture/Recreation, which enables each of them to provide top quality services to our citizens.
In FY ’17-’18, the General Government function accounts for $7,430,229 or 15% of the operating budget. Expenditures in this function have increased by $577,298 or 8% over prior fiscal year. The proposed budget includes funding that will increase the service level of all general government departments.
A Governing Board’s contracted services line item of $50,000 will be added for the purpose of furthering broadband expansion in Macon County. In October 2016 a committee was formed at the direction of the Macon County Board of Commissioners to evaluate broadband availability and assess the potential for expansion within Macon County. Research conducted by this committee in FY ’16-’17 has confirmed that Macon County, like Western North Carolina is severely lacking in “last mile” broadband coverage. The budgeted funds will enable a critical first step in FY ’17-’18 towards finding a solution to this problem.
Building and Grounds
The building and grounds budget will increase by $205,917 in FY ’17-’18. Of this increase $150,000 will go towards a complete roof replacement at the Macon County Detention Center. Leaks in the roof have continued to worsen and are now damaging furniture and equipment inside the facility. The project will be bid out and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder in FY ’17-’18.
In FY ’17-’18 the Information Technology budget will increase by $109,368 from FY ’16-’17. Of this increase, $66,450 will go towards improving the security of data assets through an information security risk assessment. This study will identify all security deficiencies that expose unacceptable levels of risk. Upon identifying these deficiencies, the assessment will lay the groundwork for the commencement of a sustainable information security lifecycle program.
In addition to the security risk assessment, information technology will oversee the enhancement of financial and human resources management software application (Munis). This enhancement which has been budgeted at $26,305 will include the addition of two modules to current software application; Dashboard and Employee Self-Service. Dashboard is an overview and reporting console of stats and account information. This will enable department heads to begin reporting account information concerning their departments. These reports are currently being compiled by the finance department. The Employee Self-Service module will provide electronic time-sheet, benefits, open enrollment, employee pay-stub and W-2 access to employees. The employees will now be able to individually key all data associated with time sheets and benefits. This data entry is currently being entered into the system by employees in HR and Finance. The addition of these modules will lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness across the organization
The Tax Assessment budget will increase by $106,461 in FY ’17-’18; $97,571.04 of this increase is attributable to the Pictometry Contract which was approved by the Board of Commissioners in December 2016. The FY ’17-’18 budgeted amount is representative of half of the total cost of the imaging software. Aside from assisting the tax office with the upcoming revaluation, this aerial imaging software will benefit departments such as EMS, 911 and the Sheriff’s Department when preparing for and responding to emergency situations.
Pictometry has been used by Macon County since 2010 making the original images now close to eight years old. The software fully integrates with Keystone tax software, ArcGis mapping software and the 911 CAD system which will allow for a seamless implementation process. The imaging flights were conducted in January and February of 2017 and a final product will be provided to Macon County on or after July 1, 2017. The remaining $97,661.95 will be due in 2020 which will provide the county with an updated set of aerial images.
Register of Deeds
In the FY ’17-’18 Register of Deeds budget, $4,300 will go towards the purchase of a Photo ID Machine which will initiate the “Thank a Veteran Program” in Macon County. This machine will be used to print photo identification cards for any Macon County veteran that has been honorably discharged from any branch of service in the United States Armed Forces. Upon filing their original discharge papers with the Register of Deeds, veterans will be provided with a photo identification card. This card can be used by the veteran at any local businesses who chooses to participate in the Thank a Veteran Program to receive discounts on goods and services.
Macon County Transit purchased six new vehicles in FY ’16-’17 – one mini-van, two light transit vehicles, and three lift-equipped high top vans. These vehicles replaced those in the fleet which had met their useful service life. All of the new vehicles with the exception of the mini-van were equipped with the new propane fuel option.
Upon adding these six new vehicles in FY ’16-’17, 10 of the 16 vehicles in the transit fleet are new. As demand for transit continues to increase, these new vehicles will result in a more effective service, while also reducing fleet maintenance costs. All of the new vehicles are expected to be in operation by June 30, 2017.
Budgeted for the purchase of these vehicles in FY ’16-’17, was $373,000 for the purchase of these vehicles in FY ’16-’17. Ninety percent of this cost however, was covered by federal and state grants. The elimination of this expenditure in FY ’17-’18 was the primary contributor to the $403,353 reduction in the transit operations budget as well as the $397,770 reduction to the transportation function in the operating budget.
Health and Human Services
Department of Social Services
In FY ’17-’18, the county contribution to the Department of Social Services will increase by $75,834 or 5.2%. Of this increase, $60,000 is attributable to the addition of an Adult Social Services Worker to meet the growing demand within this area of service; $11,000 will go towards making the Senior Services Activities Coordinator at the Crawford Center a full-time position.
In FY 17-’18, county contribution to the Health Department will increase by $89,950 or 3.9% from FY ’16-’17; $60,000 of this increase is attributable to the FY 17-’18 cost of living adjustment provided by Macon County. In addition, $37,073 has been budgeted for a Processing Assistant IV to assist Health Department Administration in meeting the often specialized human resource needs coming down from the Office of State Personnel. This will be a contract position and remain contingent upon Medicaid reimbursement funding.
Town of Highlands Cultural/Recreation
The Town of Highlands is entering into the fifth year of a multi-year renovation of Highlands Recreation Facilities. Since FY ’13-’14 the Town of Highlands has spent $1,631,699 on a gym renovation, new swimming pool construction, ballfield renovation, construction of a dog park and numerous downtown improvements. Moving forward, the town has a number of additional recreational improvements to complete including a skate park, new lighting on the ballfield and improvements to the lower parking lot and sidewalks leading to the civic center.
In FY 17-’18 the Town of Highlands will complete the civic center renovation which will include a complete main level rehab as well as a main level stage area and lower level multi-use area renovation. The estimates for the construction costs of this renovation are approximately $700,000; $350,000 has been included in the Macon County FY 17-’18 recommended budget to assist the Town of Highlands with these renovation costs. This expenditure will increase the annual recreation appropriation to the Town of Highlands to $900,000 in the coming fiscal year. This one-time appropriation was the primary contributor to the $340,199 increase to the Culture/Recreation function in the FY 17-’18 recommended budget.
Fontana Regional Library System
Operational funding for Macon County libraries will remain at the FY ’16-’17 level of $999,390. At 2% of the operating budget, Macon County continues to place the highest priority on our local libraries.
Changes made to the county’s health insurance plan which took effect in FY ’15-’16 resulted in the first increase to net position in this fund since 2009. On July 1, 2016, $529,808 was available in the reserve fund. During FY ’16-’17 however, an escalation in the number of claims will lead to a projected decrease in net position of $1,010,642 at fiscal year-end. Increases in both sales tax and ad-valorem tax revenue during FY ’16-’17 should prove sufficient to cover the $480,834 deficit in the reserve fund.
In FY 17-’18 the Health Insurance Committee have made additional changes to the county’s health insurance plan. These changes combined with a $128,739 increase in operating contribution from the county, will lead to a reduction in claim costs during FY 17-’18. The FY 17-’18 recommended budget also transfers $261,802 from the general fund to the health insurance reserve fund which otherwise would be at $0 going into the new fiscal year.
Capital Improvement Plan
Included in the FY 17-’18 Recommended Budget is $30,000 to hire a consulting firm who will assist Macon County in developing a multi-year Capital Improvement Plan. The plan will identify high-priority capital projects and equipment purchases as indicated by Macon County. Aside from identifying the projects, it will also contain a planning schedule and funding options for completing the projects.
Cost of Living Adjustment
In the FY 17-’18 recommended budget, $387,507 will go towards providing Macon County employees with a 2% cost of living adjustment which is based on the Bureau of Labor CPI in the South Region for the previous December-December time period.
Macon County School System Operations
The School System requested $7,338,330 in local funding for FY 17-’18 operating expenses. At the time the School Budget was submitted, this $200,000 increase in funding from FY ’16-’17 would go towards accomplishing the following:
• Adding six new teachers to comply with the state mandated K-3 class-size requirement which would eliminate class size flexibility. The estimated cost of these positions according to the school system would total approximately $350,000.
• Funding in full two new teachers that would be lost resulting from the elimination of Federal Title II funding. The estimated cost of these positions according to the school system would total approximately $104,000.
• Moving three teachers from state to local funding
• Adding one Digital Resource Facilitator Position at an estimated cost of $67,950.
• A 5% salary increase for teachers and a 2% increase for non-certified personnel totaling approximately $176,000.
Following submittal of the School Budget, changes have taken place which will impact these anticipated costs: Session Law 2017-9 which was signed by the Governor on April 27, 2017 will continue to allow flexibility in regards to class size requirements for FY 17-18’.
While President Trump has proposed eliminating the $2.3B Title II program, the likelihood of this proposal going through remains unlikely as the money goes out to almost every congressional district. This funding however, could be reduced as panels in both the House and Senate approved modest cuts to Title II funding last year. Those spending bills which never made it to the president’s desk would have reduced Title II funding to $2 billion.
While 5% has been budgeted for teacher salary increases, 3.7% has been proposed by the Senate at the time of this budget message. Negotiations will continue and be finalized with the passage of the state budget.
Due to the aforementioned changes which have occurred following submittal of the School System Budget, Roland is recommending for local operating funding to remain at the FY ’16-’17 level of $7,138,330. In addition to these changes, it is important to note that Senate Bill 15/ House Bill 23 which is titled “An Act to Provide for Teacher Allotments for Geographically Isolated K-12 Schools” could potentially yield additional funding in the State Budget. This bill if enacted could add up to six teaching positions in the Macon County School System. The bill was referred to the House Rules Committee on April 27, 2017.
Macon County Schools Capital Outlay and Technology
$600,000 will be placed in the FY 17-’18 capital outlay budget for the school system. The total capital outlay appropriation in FY ’16-’17 was $500,000, with $200,000 of this amount being earmarked for the Highlands Gym Roof Replacement project. The FY 17-’18 appropriation of $600,000 is reflective of $300,000 for capital improvements and $300,000 for technology needs.
Funding for Southwestern Community College will increase slightly from FY ’16-’17 to offset a small increase in utility costs. The FY ’17-’18 budgeted amount for SCC operations is $281,843.
Next step in the county budget process
Macon County Commissioners scheduled a budget work session to invite all departments to address the board regarding questions or concerns on Roland’s proposed budget. The work session will be held on Thursday, June 8, at 5 p.m. at the Macon County Courthouse. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 13, to give the public the opportunity to provide input on the budget process.