Proposal eliminates all but necessities for 2014-15.
Macon County's proposed fiscal year budget for 2014-15 looks significantly different than the current year’s budget. County Manager Derek Roland presented the first budget of his tenure to commissioners Tuesday night and informed the board that the budget is 3.4 percent less than the fiscal year 2013-14’s original budget of $47,145,470. Roland’s proposed budget sits at $45,521,122, which is not only less than the beginning budget for this year, but also 2.9 percent less than the projected expenditures in 2014 ($46,857,615).
“The proposed budget, while addressing many needs, was developed with the purposeful attempt of stabilizing the county’s fund balance position and preparing for the forthcoming revaluation which will become effective on January 1, 2015,” said Roland in his opening remarks to the board.
Roland explained to commissioners that while the overall budget is less than previous years, with the help of department heads, he worked to ensure that the quality of services offered to the public will continue.
“The county currently has the lowest advalorem property tax rate among all 100 counties in North Carolina (27.9 cents per 100),” he said. “An estimated fund balance available as a percentage of expenditures and transfers are at 29 percent, continues to provide our county with a big degree of financial security in terms of being prepared for unexpected emergencies, shortfalls in revenues, and the ability to achieve favorable interest rates when financing capital projects. Our solid financial position, combined with a conservative approach to budgeting and a consistent tax collection rate are direct contributions to Macon County’s A+ bond rating.”
Roland explained that 70 percent of the county’s total budget is comprised of funding for public education, public services and public safety, which he believes is a testament to the county’s dedication to its citizens.
The proposed budget includes a $142,688 decrease in funds for the overall government operations which includes the garage, maintenance department, IT services and other areas that keep the county government operating. The general government portion of the budget accounts for 14 percent of the overall budget and sits at $6,262,911. Despite the decrease in overall funding, Roland was able to absorb expenses to include the addition of a mechanic at the county garage at the cost of $40,248 in salary and benefits. “I think it is important to note that most departments requested new vehicles this year, but due to our financial state, those requests were denied,” said Roland. “With the anticipated increase in vehicle maintenance that will occur, we think that more than justifies hiring a new mechanic at the county garage.”
The county manager also noted that this portion of the budget reflects changes to the state’s election laws which will increase the county’s contribution to the local board of elections office in order to allow the department to implement new state mandates such as Voter ID and a shortened one-stop voting period.
In the public safety portion of the budget, which includes emergency management, sheriff’s department, and dispatch, the overall budget was increased by about $50,000. Roland noted that sections of the county’s public safety departments are receiving new vehicles at a cost of $85,280 to purchase two patrol SUVs and one patrol sedan for the MCSO and $125,000 to purchase a new ambulance for emergency management. Those funds were made possible through absorbing other costs in the budget.
Public safety was increased due to rising costs in operations of the detention center. According to Roland, the cost of meals for inmates have increased by .35 cents over the last year and that, paired with an increase in the longevity of inmate stay, additional budget items were added. The detention center’s line item for medical care was double in the proposed budget.
“I do not know if you all are aware of this or not, but the second an inmate gets booked into our jail, all of their medical expenses become our obligation," Roland said. “Last year we budgeted $100,000 for medical expenses for inmates, and if you look, we have already far exceeded that.”
Roland proposed doubling the allocation for medical expenses to $200,000.
While public education remains the largest single portion of the county’s budget, despite asking for a $500,000 increase in their budget, the county manager proposed to leave education funding the same this coming year.
Macon County’s budget was also cut by $200,000 after cutting funding to Southwestern Community College’s Jackson Campus. According to Roland, the $200,000 line item was appropriated in the budget before the Macon Campus was built to help cover the administration costs associated with Macon students attending the Jackson Campus. With the proposed expansion to the Macon Campus, Roland noted he felt the county should focus on growing the local campus rather than appropriating money for Jackson County.
One significant drawback to Roland’s proposed budget includes stopping the Springsted Pay Plan that called for raises across the board for county employees.
“It is with great regret that I am unable in this year’s proposed budget to include the final portion of the Springsted Pay Plan,” he said. “Cost estimates for implementing this portion of the pay study are approximately $500,000 and currently cannot be absorbed in our operating budget. Our inability to implement this portion of the pay plan will result in our long serving employees continuing to fall behind suggested compensation levels as the remaining portion to be implemented recommends a 4 percent increase for those employees serving eight years in their current positions, and a .5 percent increase for years served beyond eight years.”
The first phase of the proposed plan was implemented in May 2013 at the cost of $814,549.88. The first phase brought all county employees up to the minimum salary for their respective position, and gave other employees a 2 percent raise.
Roland stated he hopes to be able to finish the pay plan in future years when the county’s financial future is more certain.
“With our financial position remaining strong, I hope this [budget] message has illustrated the many uncertainties that lie ahead for us in the future. In light of the aforementioned, I am proposing to you a budget that preserves our financial position without compromising the high quality level of services we provided to the citizens,” concluded Roland.
Commissioners recessed Tuesday night’s meeting until May 31 at 9 a.m. at Southwestern Community College’s Macon Campus to discuss the proposed budget and hear any concerns from department heads. A public hearing will be set on the budget at a later date.