Although it’s still facing a shortfall of $159,000 for Fiscal Year 2014-15, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ Budget Committee will not make a recommendation to raise taxes this year.
The budget committee met Thursday night, and despite a tight budget, the committee says it will meet its goal of a proposed budget of balanced revenues and expenses of $39,673,766.
“This is my third year of working on the budget committee and it is the tightest budget I have worked on without question,” Fancy Gap District Supervisor Phil McCraw said. “But the budget committee recommendation is to not raise taxes.”
County Administrator Gary Larrowe and Assistant County Administrator Nikki Cannon both said finding the $159,119 needed to balance the budget would not be an issue.
“And we would be reducing expenses to do that,” Larrowe said.
As far as revenues, Cannon said the county will be relying heavily on delinquent tax collections in order to balance the upcoming budget. She has budgeted the collection of $1.5 million in delinquent real estate taxes for Fiscal Year 2015. Supervisor Tom Littrell asked how delinquent tax collections were going for the current budget year.
“We’ve got $1.2 million in the budget right now and we have collected $636,000, so we are at about half,” Cannon said.
Littrell asked how that number would be impacted if the county were to start selling delinquent properties on the courthouse steps.
“You will have a lot better collection percentage I think if you begin selling the property,” Cannon said.
Cannon said she also budgeted $600,000 for collection of delinquent taxes for personal property. For the current year, Carroll has only collected “$200,000” in that category.
Total estimated revenues for Fiscal Year 2015 are down $4,889,078 from the current year. That figure is roughly the amount of the renovation of the HVAC project at Carroll County High School.
“Basically the school construction project is why there is such a big difference,” Cannon said.
On the expenditure side, Cannon said the county will experience about a 5.2% increase in health insurance, which will equate to roughly $17,000 in additional funding. An additional VRS rate change of 1% resulted in another $73,000 increase in expenditures for personnel, she said.
She also noted an upcoming retirement will most likely lead to the combining of the offices of the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Assessor for a potential savings of $36,000. There will also be increased costs in courtroom security.
“If you walk in the building during open hours you can see the deputies manning the metal detectors,” Cannon said. “We are getting to the point now where courtroom security fees are now not covering the cost of courtroom security. For years it was the other way around.”
Another focus in the budget process has been to not only look at Fiscal Year 2015, but the following year as well to find ways to operate as efficiently as possible while reducing costs in any possible arenas. One of those ways is the possible replacement of the county’s phone system.
Cannon said in building the budget, several parts of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan have been increased while others have been reduced. Partial removals from departments include $45,000 from IT, $149,000 from maintenance, $10,000 from recreation, and $50,000 from economic development projects.
Increases include a request for a new animal control officer vehicle at $27,000 and an additional $85,220 as the state is moving from its current electronic voting system back to paper ballots.
And although the Carroll County School Board requested a level transfer of funds this year, Cannon said the county’s cost for education actually will increase by $737,556 for Fiscal Year 2015.
“One of the things that made it a little more difficult in this year’s budget…I am not that familiar with operating schools, but it surprises me there is such a significant cost to operating the gym at Woodlawn School,” Cannon said. “Right now you’ve got $235,000 worth of expenses in the county budget for Woodlawn School.”
Funding in the capital improvement plan for school buses is projected to be reduced to $220,000, Cannon said, while debt service for schools increased by $223,000, most of which is attributable to the HVAC payments.
“The numbers I have talked about already with Woodlawn School and the debt service for schools…that is a big hit in one year, almost $500,000,” Cannon said.
The budget for Fiscal Year 2015 also shows an increase in the county budget based on Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) payments for the $15 million renovation of CCHS and Carroll County Middle School.
“Because of sequestration we were supposed to get interest-free financing on the QSCB,” Cannon said. “They reduced the amount of rebate they are sending back by almost $60,000. So as of right now with the CIP budgeted into the county’s budget for the schools, we have seen an increase in expenditures related to education of about $737,000.”
Littrell asked about the $160,000 shortfall to make revenues and expenditures match without raising taxes. He wanted to know if the shortfall could be met while still saving on the county’s fund balance.
“No, we are going to go down some. You are going to have to do one of two things moving forward. You are going to have to make a modification of your budget goal of increasing the fund balance or make harder decisions about fees,” Cannon said. “There is a budget goal that says the board wants to increase fund balance, and all I am saying is if the desire is to leave the tax rate at the level it is now, then that goal is not in line.”
“It is still a goal, just a very difficult one,” Larrowe added.
Currently, the county has a cash balance of approximately $11 million, Cannon said.
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 728-7311 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN.