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Watauga’s Recommended Budget Released: Decrease of 6 Percent, No Tax Increase

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By Jesse Wood

Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque has released the recommended budget for fiscal year 2015-16, and a highlight of the budget is that no property tax increase is proposed.

Geouque noted that the general fund recommended budget totals $44,584,206, which represents a decrease of 6.1 percent over the current year’s budget.

“Watauga County … remains financially strong and continues to rebound from the past economic downturn. Many counties throughout the state are envious of Watauga County’s financial strength,” Geouque summarized in his budget message to the commissioners. “Due to … prudent measures the county has been able to maintain the quality of services residents and citizens are accustomed to. The proposed fiscal year 2015-16 budget will mark the 10th year the property tax rate has remained level at $0.0313 with no increase.”

Based on a historical collection rate of 97.35 percent, the total assessed value of taxable properties in the county is $8,831,000,000. Property taxes are estimated to bring in $26.9 million in revenue, representing more than 61 percent of the general fund’s revenue.

Geouque pointed out in his budget message that other highlights include funding to outfit all patrol officers with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office with body cameras; maintains current service levels to citizens; and increases current and future capital funding for Watauga County Schools by nearly 37 percent.

See the recommended budget for individual departments here.

In speaking to commissioners last week, Geouque noted “two potential” concerns regarding legislative issues in the N.C. General Assembly.

The first revolved around two bills – S.B. 369 and S.B. 608 – that would impact the county’s sales tax revenue if passed in the N.C. General Assembly.

S.B. 369 would reduce the county’s sales tax revenue by $5 million through five years by redistributing the monies to other counties, and S.B. 608 would freeze current sales tax levels and also redistribute the monies to lower-wealth counties. With S.B. 608, estimated sales tax losses would be $188,000 with loss of future growth, according to Geouque’s budget message.

The other legislative issue that Geouque passed onto the commissioners was H.B. 730, which would basically require counties to provide 911 dispatch services to municipalities free of charge.

As of right now, the county charges the Town of Blowing Rock $171,187 for dispatch services. This is revenue the county would lose for providing that service, and for years, Watauga County has strived to consolidate with the Town of Boone. The town, however, has preferred to serve its own residents with dispatch services.

As former Watauga County Board of Commissioner Vince Gable said in 2011, “A lot of it is political turf wars with everyone wanting to keep their little domains.”

Geouque noted that the bill, which is only about two paragraphs long, doesn’t provide much detail aside from requiring counties to provide dispatch by July 1.

“Here we are in May,” Geouque said last week. “That only gives two months to try to make some kind of transition, which really is not that feasible.”

Geouque said that the dispatch transition with Blowing Rock took six to eight months. The other potential problem that the bill isn’t clear about is what will happen when a municipality spans two counties such as Seven Devils and Beech Mountain, which span Avery and Watauga counties.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will hold two budget work sessions on Monday and Tuesday, May 11 and 12, beginning at 4 p.m. both days, to comb the budget line item by line item. Then the commissioners will hold a public hearing and vote on the budget in the coming weeks.

Peruse the entire recommended budget here.