County Hints at Tax Cut
Hints of a one-cent tax cut next year emerged during the recent planning mini-retreat of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
The board spent all day Dec. 10 hearing reports, updates and overviews of multiple subjects that affect the county budget and -- ultimately -- the property tax rate.
Board Chairman Tim Lea asked his fellow commissioners if they want to cut the tax rate.
"I always want to cut something," said Commissioner Nick Picerno, the former chairman.
Picerno said he sees the potential of a one-cent reduction. He based his projection on the the tax collection rate for the past year.
Information presented by Finance Officer Lisa Hughes had its positive side and plenty of negatives.
Revenues are not expected to increase, and fuel is one of several areas where costs will climb. Revenue losses were estimated at $203,637, and expenses are expected to increase by $409,765.
On the positive side, tax collections, as of November, were running slightly ahead of last year. Tax Administrator Wayne Vest said the county had collected about 64.5 percent of the total levy by the end of November.
The county has property valued at $11.7 billion on its tax books, with a projected collection of $53.1 million. The collection will climb to $53.3 million once $220,000 in prior years' taxes are added.
"We can assume a very tight, frugal budget process," Hughes said.
That's assuming that the county adds no new positions and departments and agencies continue to hold their own on expenditures.
The financial report showed a complex mixture of ups and downs.
For example, human services -- including social services and public health -- had the largest amount of unspent funds in the budget, $2.4 million.
Canceling that plus was the fact that these departments did not draw as much in the form of grants and other lump sum payments this year. The General Government category was next when it comes to unspent budget money, with $731,399.
"Don't look at these numbers independently," Hughes said.
Hughes reported that so far frugality has paid off, with $1.6 million in budgeted revenues exceeding budgeted expenditures.
In keeping with the board's budget decision, $8.6 million has been transferred from the fund balance to the capital reserve fund, to be used as a down payment of sorts toward construction of the detention center-public safety complex and the government office building.
The transfer reduces the fund balance but not below the percentage recommended by the Local Government Commission.
Sales tax collections, as expected, were down substantially.
In addition to the sluggish economy, the reduction reflects the loss of the quarter-cent sales tax that counties lost because of the state's takeover of Medicaid costs.
The impact from the state's revenue shortfall is also felt in miscellaneous directions. Among these losses were $133,333 in beer and wine sales distributions, $44,854 in Department of Corrections payments for housing inmates, and $25,450 in court facilities fees. Then there was an indirect operating revenue loss of $814,393 in corporate tax funding for the schools' public facilities fund.
Hughes said that the county's enterprise funds have collected more than they have spent, but the difference is not all that big. Enterprise funds are funds collected on the basis of fees paid for service, such as utilities.
The county also has special revenue funds that are earmarked for particular programs and cannot be spent for anything else.
Two examples are the 911 fund, designated only for expenses connected with the emergency communications system, and the Advanced Life Support fund, which covers the emergency medical services program. Fees charged for 911 are added to telephone bills, while the Advanced Life Support (ALS) fund is supported by a tax assessed according to property valuation.
The commissioners were wary of accumulating large sums of unspent money with the state of North Carolina in such dire economic condition.
Board Chairman Tim Lea pointed out that it might be unwise to allow these funds to grow too large, even if they are allocated for specific purposes.
"The state is looking at any pile of unspent money," Lea said. "We are at risk for a state takeover. We have to protect the resources we have."
His remarks refer to a previous state budget crunch, when the governor froze reimbursement payments to local governments to balance the state budget. It forced counties to make substantial budget reductions at the last minute.
Comments about a possible tax rate reduction were made off the cuff and do not reflect what may actually happen come budget preparation time next year.
The tax rate cannot be changed until the commissioners adopt the 2010-2011 budget, to take effect July 1.
About two cents were lopped off the tax rate this year, including half a cent from the ALS rate.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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