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Wednesday, 05 June 2013 12:51

Haywood settles into budget norm of making ends meet

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Haywood County’s budget will increase by more than $2 million next fiscal year, but it will still be nearly that amount shy of the county’s pre-recession budget.

 

While the budget will increase, property taxes will not go up. The additional revenue is thanks to a projected growth in sales tax and newly built homes and businesses being added to the county’s tax rolls.

The proposed budget stands at $68.7 million. Most of the increase is simply eaten up by the rising cost of doing business, such as office supplies, employee insurance and retirement payouts.

That only leaves a little money left over for new expenses, which is why County Manager Marty Stamey said county leaders will have to get creative.

“We are having to identify ways we can help things without putting money into it,” Stamey said.

One way is by adding an employee without actually adding one. Two Environmental Health and Safety workers are retiring this year; the county plans to fill only one of the positions, freeing up money for a new position elsewhere in the county.

The county will add a new drug detective, a sheriff’s deputy, a detention sergeant and an information technology technician, bring the county employee count up to 501.

The sheriff made a plea for six more personnel earlier this year, but got three. The narcotics officer will beef up the department’s drug fighting task force — when he entered office this year, the new sheriff said first and foremost he wanted to crack down on drug activity in the county. He said he also needed more detention officers to operate the jail’s annex.

As for the computer guy, “we have got to increase our IT staffing,” Stamey said.

The department is responsible for maintaining all the county’s technology. With only three full-time employees, IT doesn’t have enough people not keep a handle on the number of work orders coming into the office, said the department’s director earlier this year.

The proposed budget for next year includes no cost of living increases for employees but allows for up to 2 percent merit-based raises. This enabled the county to reward those who work hard rather than giving everyone the same increase no matter of their performance, said County Finance Director Julie Davis, adding that the county has not given cost of living raises for the last few years at least.

The county will continue to contribute 1 percent to employee’s 401(k)s and give a Christmas bonus. But Stamey apologized to county workers for not being able to do more.

“It’s almost like we are punishing our staff for doing a good job,” Stamey said.

Haywood County Schools and the Haywood Community College will see a minimal increase in their budget of 1.2 percent. The county’s K-12 school allocation is based on a mutually agreed on funding formula arrived at several years ago by the county and school system.

The formula is “probably the best thing that happened to the school system,” said Commissioner Bill Upton, a former superintendent. “Every visit to commissioners was a big fuss.”

Haywood County Schools is still lagging in funding for building upkeep and repairs, however. It will get $385,000 next year, a bump compared to last year, but still short of the $600,000 it used to get and far less than the $1.3 million in requested, claiming that the schools had a maintenance backlog to dig out of. 

Education spending comes in a close second to county funding for human services, which has seen a rise in foster care costs as well as increased expenses related to unfunded state mandates.

On revenue side, sales tax income is going up steadily. 

“This is a positive,” Davis said.

The county is expecting a small increase in property tax revenue as well once the state implements its new collection policy. Under state statute, residents must pay all their outstanding tax bills before they can renew their motor vehicle registration. However, the increase is not reflected in the proposed budget.

“We can only budget as much as we collected in the prior fiscal year,” Davis said. “We do expect that there might be a little bit more collected.”

The budget, like this year’s, only sets aside $300,000 in contingency funds for any unexpected costs, which Stamey admitted is low, but they have not used up their contingency this year despite being “anxious” about it.

“We have made it through this year so far,” Stamey said. “I feel comfortable recommending $300,000 for contingency.”

The commissioners thanked county staff for its work on the budget.

“The staff is to be commended,” Upton said.

Fellow Commissioner Michael Sorrells called next fiscal year’s budget the most difficult one he has worked on since being elected because costs continue to go up, leaving little wiggle room.

“We worked hard on it and tried to get it where it needed to be,” Sorrells said. 

 

Voice your opinion

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners will host a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 17, to listen to feedback on the proposed budget for next fiscal year. A special meeting is also called for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 20, for commissioners to vote on the budget.

Highlights include:

• No tax rate increase

• Net gain of three full-time county employees, four positions are being added and one eliminated.

• A 1.2 percent increase in education funding

• Merit based rather than across-the-board raises for employees

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