Compiled by Jesse Wood
May 12, 2014. Prior to the budget work sessions scheduled for last Friday and this coming Tuesday by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, County Manager Deron Geouque released the recommended 2014-15 fiscal-year budget. You can view the entire recommended budget here.
The $57-million proposed budget is a $3,350,155 or 5.55 percent decrease over the current fiscal-year budget.
Among the budget highlights, the budget calls for no increase the ad valorem property tax rate that stands at 31.3 cents per $100 valuation for the ninth straight year and prices in the expansion of ambulance service with a medic base in between Vilas and Cove Creek. The budget includes an appropriation of $517,000 for the new medic base that is estimated to be complete in spring 2015. It also includes current and future capital funding for Watauga County Schools and maintains current service level to citizens, according to a memo from the Geouque to the commissioners.
“Watauga County, as detailed in the recommended budget, continues to remain in sound financial health as compared to other county governments across North Carolina. In an effort to minimize the impact of the economic downturn, the board of commissioners have reduced expenditures, delayed capital projects, and trimmed the county’s workforce over the past several years. Our strong financial position is due to these prudent decision-making and cost controlling measures,” Geouque wrote.
“Despite the slight upturn in the economy the county will continue to face challenging budget times in the coming years. Staff remains cautious with regards to revenue and expenditure estimates in preparing the annual budget. The County will need to monitor the General Assembly to ensure new legislation is not enacted that may potentially impact County revenues and expenditures. The County does support the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners quest to restore full funding of lottery proceeds to the County. The Board is to be commended for governing in a pro-active manner and being vigilant in its approach to responsible financial planning while making needed improvements and investments in the future for all our citizens.”
During the work sessions, the commissioners will tweak budget items. A public hearing on the budget will be heard in May and the commissioners will vote on and adopt the budget in June.
Below are department excerpts from the budget message to commissioners:
Watauga County Schools: Current operating costs are recommended level at $12,062,834. A 2% COLA has been requested to cover salary increases and is budgeted to be paid out based on the State’s adopted budget. $175,000 is recommended in current capital. This is a modification from the plan presented to the Board at the annual retreat reflecting input from school staff. Utilization of lottery funds (estimated distribution for FY 2014-15 is $306,593), ADM reserve funds (estimated balance is 440,000), and the School System’s existing fund balance will continue to be required to meet capital needs. The Watauga County Schools’ Capital Improvement Plan is scheduled to receive $300,000 for Fiscal Year 2014-2015. The goal is to provide $500,000 in County funds for current capital and $750,000 in State and County funds for future capital projects.
Caldwell Community College: Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) is recommended at $851,709 or a two percent (2%) increase. CCC&TI is conducting the surplus process on the Continuing Education building. Staff will recommend selling the building once the surplus process is completed as the County has no current needs for the building.
The overall appropriation of County funding for the Department of Social Services is $1,939,214, an increase in funding of 7.92% over the previous year. The primary increase is due to the number of foster care children in County custody.
Total funding appropriation for the Health Department is budgeted at level funding in the amount $568,183.
Smoky Mountain Center funding is proposed at the current level of $171,194.
Tax reevaluation has been completed with approximately 48,000 parcels of property reviewed during the process. The last revaluation was eight (8) years ago. The decrease of $309,000 in expenditures is from the completion of the revaluation process and potential savings associated with the State Motor Vehicle billing.
Maintenance of Facilities
A total of $60,523 is proposed for paving and seal coating, $75,000 for general maintenance and repairs, and $33,920 for the replacement of a snowplow truck. The County is slowly replacing vehicles and equipment that were not able to be replaced over the past several years. In addition, building repairs and renovations are being made to preserve and prolong facilities.
$80,450 has been allocated for computer and server needs in current operating expenses with no funds required from the Capital Projects Fund. This fully funds critical technology needs for all County Departments.
Watauga County Sheriff’s Office: The Sheriff’s Office budget reflects an increase of $88,640 for a total appropriation of $3,450,599. This budget includes the purchase of five (5) new Sheriff’s vehicles to replace current high mileage vehicles.
The Detention Center operational budget is estimated at $2,109,541. The bulk of the increase is for the replacement of a transport van.
The construction of a new medics base is scheduled to start late fall of 2014 or early spring of 2015. Funding for the additional 24-hour crew was provided in the current fiscal year budget where Watauga Medics converted a 12 –hour crew to a 24-hour crew which will be housed at the new station once completed.
Cultural & Recreational
The Watauga County Public Library is proposed with no increase for a total allocation of $509,850.
Also, the continuation of the $75,000 has been incorporated into the aquatic center’s building budget to cover needed repairs. There is no projected end for such funding until a major overhaul, construction of a new facility, or closure of the facility occurs. Per Board direction, staff is working on a funding plan for the eventual replacement of the pool complex. The Board designated $870,236 in Fiscal Year 2013-14 to be set aside for future recreational facilities.
Debt service expenditures reflect the funding of existing financing. The final $1.2 million associated with the debt service plan established in FY 2011-2012 will be drawn down from the Capital Projects Fund per the plan enacted three (3) years ago.
A total of nine (9) new positions, twelve (12) reclassifications, five (5) salary adjustments, and two (2) increases in hours worked were requested. Three (3) new positions are recommended, two (2) jail supervisors and one (1) assistant aquatics director. All three (3) positions are in response to safety issues/concerns. The assistant aquatics director was primarily funded through a reduction in part-time salaries in the aquatics budget. Eight (8) reclassifications are recommended as they meet the level II requirements. A two percent (2%) cost of living adjustment for all County employees has been budgeted. Employees continue to provide a high level of service to the citizens with less resources and personnel.
Revaluation has been completed and in accordance with NCGS 159-11(e) the revenue neutral rates for the Fire/Service Districts are provided below.
SOLID WASTE (Enterprise Fund)
Funding is recommended at $4,212,247 a 6.18% decrease over last year. The contract with GDS for hauling and disposal was successfully renewed in November of 2013. Staff was able to negotiate a $1 reduction in the tipping fee and a waiver of the first year CPI increase. GDS has provided excellent service with no material issues. In an effort to streamline the fee process, the Green Box Fee ($25) and Solid Waste Fee ($62) will be combined into one fee. The new Solid Waste Fee, as it will be designated, will be $80.
The current fiscal year was the first in four years that funding was allocated for County capital needs. Approximately $870,236 was set aside for future recreation complex and pool repair as directed by the Board. No funding is recommended for County capital needs for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 due to the $870,236 allocation. The County received requests totaling $12,097,258 for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 capital needs. Once again, staff has successfully eliminated drawing down funds from the Capital Project Fund for capital items that need to be budgeted in current operating expenses.
The CIP is designed to enumerate priorities for the long-term maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure, facilities and services provided to County residents; and balance the fiscal impact on the tax rate. Adequate funding of the CIP is necessary to prevent further loss and erosion of capital assets while developing and budgeting for future capital projects.
Appropriations to Nonprofits