By Jesse Wood
May 1, 2012. Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque submitted the proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year to the Watauga County Commissioners this Tuesday Morning.
The budget totals for all funds is $54,561,785, which is a reduction of $3,698,538 from this year. The general fund budget totals $41,390,872. This budget represents a decrease of nearly 11 percent compared to the current year’s budget. Total general fund revenues equal $41,390,872.
The recommended budget increases to the Sheriff’s Office funds by 3.6 percent and keeps education funds the same as last year. In the packet, Geouque noted that the “proposed budget keeps increases in expenditures to minimal levels, with most increases related to personnel costs, utilities, higher fuel costs, etc. Economic conditions have improved in some sectors of the economy, but the recovery continues to be slow.”
In the budget packet, Geouque labeled these as the budget highlights:
- Maintains the current ad valorem tax rate at $0.313
- Incorporates funding for consolidated dispatch with Town of Blowing Rock
- Continues existing service levels to citizens
- Provides funding for demolition of old Watauga High School, which is now anticipated to cost $650,000 – down from original $1.2 million figure
- Includes funding for current capital projects
The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will conduct work sessions to review the recommended fiscal year 2012/2013 county budget. The work sessions will be held on Thursday, May 3, 2012, at 4:00 p.m. and Monday, May 7, 2012, at 4:00 p.m. in the commissioners’ conference room in the Watauga County administration building located at814 West King Street. For information or questions, please call the county manager’s office at (828) 265-8000.
The Recommended Budget will be available for public inspection on the County’s website, in the County Manager’s Office, and at the Libraries located in Boone, Blowing Rock, and the Western Watauga Community Center.
A public hearing has also been scheduled for May 15, 2012, at 6:00 P.M. to allow citizen comment on the proposed budget.
The current expenditures for the Watauga County School System will remain the same as in the previous year with $11,839,645 in current operating costs and $321,574 in regular capital outlay. The County allocation totals $12,161,219 with no funds provided for the Watauga County Schools’ Capital Improvement Plan. The School system received a $768,631, or 7.78%, increase in the current budget from the previous year amount.
Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) is also recommended at last year’s level of $810,980. CCC&TI is limited in their ability to provide additional classes due to the lack of classroom facilities. In the near future, CCC&TI will be requesting a $200,000 match from the County for the construction of a new facility to meet the educational demands on the Watauga campus.
The overall appropriation of County funding for the Department of Social Services is $1,484,731, a decrease in funding of 17.3% over the previous year. The decrease is primarily the result of the one-time Northwoods software and imaging equipment purchase. The software will enable the department to do more with fewer administrative personnel. The Child Support Enforcement Division will be relocated to County facilities, eliminating the cost of leasing office space.
The Health Department budget reflects level funding for a total County appropriation of $541,127. The Health Department continues to struggle with State and Federal cuts. Two major areas of concern are primary care and environmental services. These services continue to significantly impact the Health Department’s financial position.
The Health Department is recommending a budget with a fund balance appropriation of $461,235, which represents 30% of the $1.5 million total Fund Balance as reported by the Health Department. A fund balance allocation of $954,792 was projected for the current fiscal year.
Funding for Smoky Mountain Center is proposed at the current level of $221,194.
A slight decrease for the Tax Department was recognized due to the retirement of a long-time employee. Tax Revaluation increased by $175,910 over the current total as the County continues the process of reviewing all 47,736 parcels of property in preparation for the 2014 revaluation.
Maintenance of Facilities
As part of the budget development process, staff conducted a line item review of departmental operations and service delivery. Through this review, it was determined that a majority of operating expenditures could be held at current levels and in some areas decreased for the next fiscal year. However, staff is recommending a 6.8% increase over FY 2012 budgeted expenses for a total of $988,353, excluding the anticipated cost of $650,000 for the demolition of the old Watauga High School.
Staff was able to budget funds in current operating expenses requiring no funds from the capital projects plan for the proposed paving needs. Paving needs are viewed as a cost of doing business and should be adequately budgeted for in current operating expenses.
The implementation of Pano computers in place of the traditional desktop units has reduced per unit cost by approximately 50% with the potential for the computers to last twice as long and use less electricity. As in the case of the Maintenance Department, $77,000 has been allocated for computer and server needs in current operating expenses with no funds required from the capital projects fund.
The Sheriff’s Office budget reflects an increase of 3.6% for a total appropriation of $3,231,768. This budget includes the purchase of 4 new Sheriff’s vehicles to replace current high mileage vehicles.
The Detention Center operational budget is estimated at $1,973,736. As a result of the increased population, food, laundry, utilities, and health care costs have risen in the budget. The Sheriff’s Office administration is working to keep costs down as much as possible but, with more inmates, increases in operational costs are unavoidable.
Consolidated dispatch with the Town of Blowing Rock will be effective July 1, 2012, with the Town paying $165,015 annually adjusted to the contracted CPI. The consolidation has allowed the County to hire two (2) dispatchers and an Emergency Services Director for a net cost of $26,957. The new director will be responsible for Emergency Management and Communications and report to the County Manager.
Cultural & Recreational
The Library is proposed at the existing funding level of $495,000. An amount of $75,000 has been incorporated into the aquatic center’s operating budget to cover needed repairs and staff anticipates a continuing need for such funding until a major overhaul or closure of the facility.
Debt service expenditures reflect the funding of existing financing. The refinancing of the high school debt will provide the potential cost savings of approximately $2.5 to $3.5 million over the remaining 16-year term of the financing. $1.5 million will be drawn down from the capital projects fund per the plan enacted last year.
The County is in the middle of the first year under the new Health Savings Account (HSA). The purpose of the change was to stabilize rates. The initial figures indicate a positive trend with regard to claims. However, due to the lack of claim history and the fact that new rates are unavailable until September, staff is budgeting for a 17% increase with the intention for rates to track near medical trend. The HSA helps encourage employees to make healthy choices which have a positive effect on their individual health as well as the overall stability of our health plan.
During the budget process, 5.5 new positions were requested and 3 are recommended.
The three positions are 2 telecommunicators and the Emergency Services Director. A
2% cost-of-living adjustment is also funded. Over 31 positions have been eliminated over the four-year downturn in the economy. Departments are doing more with less.
Sanitation (Enterprise Fund)
Funding is recommended at $4,090,743, a 3.97% increase over last year. The increase is related to the waste hauling contract with GDS. For the past three years, the County has benefited from the fuel escalator; however, with the rising cost of diesel fuel, the benefit is shifting in favor of GDS. Staff will begin preliminary contract discussions as the expiration date of the current contract is only two years out. Sanitation fees are scheduled to remain unchanged. Cost savings should increase as the new methane gas engines continue to be optimized in the production of electricity. The County continues to explore the recovery and beneficial uses of the methane gas produced by the landfill.
The five-year capital improvement plan continues to be suspended due to the poor economic conditions. A comprehensive review of the plan was completed to determine long-term capital needs. With the exception of the $1.5 million associated with the debt service plan established FY 2011-2012, staff has successfully eliminated drawing down funds from the capital project fund for capital items that need to be budgeted in current operating expenses. Staff is hopeful that this will mark a turning point in which the County can begin contributions into the fund for future years. Restoration of the capital project fund will be critical for the County to meet financial needs for new projects and major improvements while maintaining level funding.