On June 7, the Avery Board of Commissioners approved the county’s budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
The new budget is $31-plus million with an exact amount of $31,463,999.
Taxes for Avery County residents will not increase. The county’s General Fund tax rate remains at 48 cents per $100 valuation and the fire tax rate remains at seven cents per $100 valuation. The county’s overall tax rate will remain at 55 cents per $100 valuation for the coming fiscal year.
This marks the fifth consecutive fiscal year that there is no tax increase for Avery County taxpayers.
A fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30 of the following year.
The new budget total is an $1,226,128 increase from the 2020-2021 fiscal budget of $30,237,871.
Commissioners (Chairperson) Martha J. Hicks, Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips, Dennis Aldridge and Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. each voted in favor of approving the 2021-22 budget as presented by County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. and County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan. Commissioner Blake Vance was absent from the meeting.
According to Barrier, Jr., Commissioner Vance said he also would have voted to adopt the budget.
During various meetings and workshops the past few months, the commissioners, county manager and finance officer considered budget requests from county department directors and representatives from all other entities the county funds in compiling the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. And following a state mandated public hearing for comments about the proposed budget, Barrier, Jr. and Hogan presented the Board of Commissioners with the final budget draft, which is for all county operations, capital improvements and debt service requirements.
“The commissioners and other county officials put much thought, time and work into compiling the upcoming fiscal year’s budget,” Barrier, Jr. stated. “This next fiscal year’s is a very good and fair one. It will well serve our citizens with the services they get from the county’s government. And we’re most proud that this will be the fifth straight year with no tax increase, while also not having to cut any county services for the same time span. That is a positive happening for our citizens and taxpayers of highest proportions. And to not have to raise taxes for a second straight year during a pandemic is quite a feat for each of those years as well. All county officials are thankful to our taxpayers for paying their taxes and for their service to our county.”
Hogan gave the commissioners an overview of the 2021-2022 budget for Avery County before they voted to approve the proposed budget. Hogan described various aspects of economic growth through the increased revenue the county earned in the 2020-21 fiscal year and further projected revenue growth during the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year. Hogan said county property values increased $95 million, or 2.29 percent, from $4.142 billion to $4.237 billion from the 2020-21 fiscal year to the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Property value, as well as property tax, according to Hogan, are increasing steadily heading into the 2021-22 fiscal year. He noted that 63 percent of revenue for the General Fund will be derived from property taxes, while 18 percent will originate from sales taxes. Hogan added that intergovernmental transfers represent 9 percent of revenue, with sales and services representing 7 percent. The remaining three percent was attributed to a miscellaneous “other” category. The fire tax revenues will be distributed to all fire departments in the county as well as the Fire Association, the Fire Commission, the Avery County Ladder Company and Linville Central Rescue.
The largest expenditure in the 2021-2022 fiscal year budget is public safety, which comprises 30 percent of planned expenditures. Education is the second largest expenditure, budgeted at 19 percent, followed by 17 percent of the general fund designated for human services, 14 percent to general government, 8 percent to environmental protection, 7 percent to other, and 5 percent to debt services.
The only expenditure categories not receiving increased funding in the 2021-22 budget year are education and debt services.
A complete breakdown of the new budget follows:
One capital project, the Avery County High School Addition & Renovation project, which has cost $20,296,039 from 2017 to 2021, also has not yet created an increase in taxes for Avery County taxpayers. Additionally, Hogan noted the county has received reimbursement from the North Carolina Lottery for another school-related project, the Crossnore Elementary School roof project.
Commissioners voted on various changes to local ordinances due to new state legislation that required compliance. North Carolina’s General Assembly adopted into law in 2019 the North Carolina General Statute Chapter 160D, which reorganized the state’s Planning and Development Regulation statutes and required compliance by June 30. The ordinances considered for changes included Maximum Building Height Ordinance, Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, High Impact Protection Ordinance, Mountain Ridge Protection Ordinance, Sexually Oriented Businesses Ordinance, Watershed Protection Ordinance and Subdivision Ordinance.
In other budget news:
*The Avery County Department of Social Services received an allocation of $17,529.73 from the State Pandemic LIEAP (Low-Income Energy Assistance Program), funds to be allocated to the County Welfare general fund.
*For labor and supplies used in the 2020 General Election, the Avery County Board of Elections received a reimbursement from the state for the amount $30,057.28.
*The Avery County Sheriff’s Department received $2,500 earmarked for the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, accepted by the Board of Commissioners for the 2021-22 budget.
*The Avery County Department of Transportation received $15,299 reimbursement from the CARES Act for the costs of offering transportation for citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Barrier, Jr. said that Avery County is eligible to receive part of a State of North Carolina settlement relating to opioid litigation, and the county has another already received FEMA reimbursement of $46,309.83 in for expenditures related to pandemic response credited to the Avery County Emergency Management Revenue Fund.
A Memorandum of Agreement was presented by county attorney Michaelle Poore relating to the North Carolina state settlement of opioid litigation. The State of North Carolina is set to receive $850 million, of which Avery County will receive $2,252,000 over an 18-year period. By law, those funds received must be used to combat the opioid crisis in the county.
The next meeting of the Avery County Board of Commissioners will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, June 21, in the Commissioners Board Room at the County Administrative Building in Newland. Because of Independence Day, the July meeting will be moved to Monday, July 12. It will also commence at 3:30 p.m. There will be no second commissioners meeting in July.