Haywood County may dip into fund balance

Haywood County commissioners have set a date for the required public hearing in advance of passing next year’s budget — an especially important one, considering County Manager Ira Dove’s prediction that the county could see itself forced to use over $2 million from the county’s fund balance to keep things in a state of equilibrium.

“Not exactly,” said Democratic Commissioner Mike Sorrells when asked if he was nervous about the prospect. “We have a pretty healthy fund balance. Maybe if we were struggling I would be.”

Dove said that the county’s recent revaluation — which indicated a slight decrease in property values that will reduce property tax revenue — was one factor in his supposition. 

Despite sales tax revenues coming in at a higher-than-normal clip and debt service payments for the Haywood Justice Center dropping off the budget soon, an unfunded mandate from the state demanding new voting machines will cost Haywood County $890,000 and changes to the schools system’s funding formula will add an additional $480,000 to this year’s budget. 

A Haywood County resolution mandates the county carry an 11 percent balance, but Dove and County Finance Director Julie Davis said that 16 percent is a bare minimum that would ensure liquidity in the case of disaster or downturn. 

The county’s fund balance is currently hovering in the “mid to high 20’s,” Dove said, probably around 27 percent. North Carolina’s Local Government Commission demands at least 8 percent of the government’s total expenditures in reserves, which would cover county operations for about a month. 

Dove cautioned that commissioners shouldn’t “get into the habit” of using fund balance to plug holes in the budget; however, the only other real options are to raise taxes, raise fees or cut services, things no one seems interested in doing. 

He said it’s possible the county’s balance could dip as low as 22.5 percent — still a strong position for the county’s coffers. 

“When I was elected in 2002, we were always taking money out of the fund balance,” said Republican Commissioner Kevin Ensley. At that time, the balance was below 10 percent. “We haven’t touched it since [about 2008].”

Ensley agreed with Sorrells in that he wasn’t nervous about the situation either; he said he felt that Haywood County was entering more stable, more “normal” economic times, unlike the Great Recession that necessitated drastic cuts. 

Akin to an emergency stash of cash, the fund balance grows each year unless it’s used; Ensley said that keeping too many taxpayer dollars above that emergency level doesn’t make sense. 


Public hearing

The Haywood County Board of County Commissioners will hear public comments regarding the proposed FY 2018-19 budget, which is expected to be released to the public May 15.

• Location: Historic Haywood County Courthouse

• Date: Thursday, June 1

• Time: 5:30 p.m.

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