Carroll proposes budget with no tax increase

By Allen Worrell -

Despite many budget challenges, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors has presented a budget for Fiscal Year 2019 with no tax increase.

During a budget presentation to the board of supervisors April 9, Carroll County Assistant Administrator Nikki Cannon said chief among the many budget challenges has been the many community demographic changes the county has experienced over the last few years.

“We have had a significant increase in jail and CSA costs related to children and care. That is a significant impact to the budget and also to the day-to-day revenue calendar to the community,” Cannon said.

The QSCB Phase III Construction for the renovation of Carroll County High School and Carroll County Middle School will cost $1.2 million in Fiscal Year 2019.

“And QSCB Phase III will be listed on my budget challenges from now until…this is our fourth year of payment and we have eight more payments,” Cannon said. “Capital needs, we have fire trucks that have been requested. Some are delayed funding. School buses and also economic development, those are challenges. We have to be able to invest in economic development in this county in order to get jobs. We also have reductions on expenditures that had been reduced in the past several years and we also have a lack of reserves to bridge the gap.”

Despite so many budget challenges, Cannon said Carroll County still had a goal to come up with a budget with no tax increase. Additionally, the board went into the budget session with a goal of rejuvenating the county’s fund balance while also preserving the current levels of services provided to citizens. In the end, Carroll is proposing a budget with balanced revenues and expenditures of $42,593,756 – an increase of $1,141,972 from the current budget. In particular, Carroll County is ramping up its estimated total of collected general property taxes by nearly $6 million – up from $22,057,904 in the current budget to $27,946,860 in Fiscal Year 2019.

“And that is 100 percent of our delinquent real estate taxes. We have budgeted to collect 100 percent. Now will we collect 100 percent in this fiscal year? I don’t think so, but in order to negate the impact of those delinquent taxes on the budget we have included a line item in the miscellaneous revenue category of negative $5,424,028,” Cannon said. “And what that is is basically to decrease the amount of property taxes we are reliant on in this budget, and that money, whatever the difference is between our revenues and expenditures, will be earmarked to rejuvenate the fund balance.”

Another major increase on the revenue side of the budget is an increase of revenue from the Commonwealth of $390,586, which Cannon said is mostly attributable to Social Services and CSA. She added there are many swings on the expenditures side from Fiscal Year 2018 to Fiscal Year 2019, most of them being reductions.

“We tried to cut in every arena possible,” Cannon said. “General government is down $135,000, judicial administration is down $24,000, and public works is down $63,000. We have two important categories to note. Public safety has increased $558,000 from Fiscal Year 2018 to 2019 and health and welfare has gone almost from $5.7 million to $6.7 million, almost a million dollar increase.”

Significant increases in expenses include those items Cannon earlier called changing community demographics – an additional $928,000 for CSA and an increase of $350,000 to the New River Valley Regional Jail. A partial payment for a Laurel Fork Fire Department fire truck and the county’s absorption of the Cana Rescue Squad resulted in more increases in funding of $229,115.

“So the total significant increase in expenses is $1.8 million and if you remember our total budget went up $1.1 million. So how did that happen? Well, we had some significant decreases in some expenditures as well,” Cannon said. “General government went down $135,000 and included in general government we are talking about the board of supervisors’ budget, the county administrator, treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue, IT, the registrar, the electoral board and finance. There was a slight reduction in education of $85,000 and that is a reduction in debt service payment. The (Carroll County) Sheriff’s Department had a $360,000 (reduction) when you look at four categories – highway safety, the sheriff’s department, day reporting, and courtroom security. But while public safety went up $558,000, the sheriff’s office also decreased $361,000, so it absorbed part of that.”

Cannon said the county funded slightly a little over $1 million in Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) in Fiscal Year 2018. The county received $1.3 million in CIP requests in Fiscal Year 2019, but only actually budgeted $568,000.

“We’ve had a request in 2019 to fund Cana Volunteer Fire Department. What is actually proposed due to the length of time it took for the Laurel Fork Fire Department truck to come in, we were hopeful we would get it before the end of this fiscal year and that’s not going to happen, so we had to include it in this budget,” Cannon said. “So what is included in this budget is debt service on Laurel Fork plus $220,000 in highway safety money committed by the sheriff. That pushed the Cana Volunteer Fire Department truck out to 2020, but basically with the intention to spec out the truck, get bids, and time it to where it is going to be the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020 when that fire truck can be funded.”

Supervisor Bob Martin said the collection of some unpaid real estate taxes helped the board from making “savage” cuts in all of the departmental budgets. Cannon said there are still some pretty steep cuts, but ones she thinks are manageable.

“Keep in mind that the revenue that is budgeted in terms of percentage of collections…we budgeted in the revenue at 97 percent of the current real estate taxes, 98 percent of public service taxes, 92 percent of vehicle license fees, and only 70 on the personal property,” Cannon said. “So there still is some revenue we hope to receive, and in the event that we don’t we are not in a bind because we have already budgeted expenditures toward that.”

A public hearing on the proposed county budget is set for Monday, April 23 at 6 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors’ Meeting Room on the second floor of the Carroll County Governmental Complex.

Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN

By Allen Worrell