County Budget Keeps School Funding, Tax Rate Same
A hold-the-line budget proposal for 2011-12 funds the public schools at the present level and retains the current property tax rate.
The $85 million general fund budget unveiled Tuesday by County Manager Cary McSwain contained no surprises but was accompanied by cautious hints of a slight upturn in expected revenues.
McSwain's budget message to the Moore County Board of Commissioners contained sharp criticism of the state for placing additional burden on county governments by failure to fund the schools at acceptable levels.
"It is an attempt by the state to avoid its funding responsibility and shift the blame for the schools' shortfall on counties," McSwain said in the budget message.
The commissioners accepted the budget package without comment on individual items. They were expected to delve into the document in more detail at a work session late Thursday afternoon.
McSwain said a 2.7 cent increase in the property tax would be needed to provide the additional $3.1 million requested by the schools to address cuts in state funding. The tax rate is currently 46.5 cents per $100 property valuation.
He softened the blow by pointing out that the legislature has yet to adopt a budget and there remains a possibility that the cuts may not be as severe as expected.
For a home valued at $160,000 - the median price in Moore County, according to the tax department - the 2.7 cent increase would add about $45 to the property tax bill each year.
McSwain noted that both the schools and the county have made deep cuts in spending in the past two years.
School leaders earlier advised the county that state spending cutbacks amounted to an estimated $12 million for 2011-2012. However, the school board reported making severe cuts on its own and dipped into the fund balance, actions reducing the overall additional request to $3.1 million.
But the budget recommends $25,540,140 for current expense and $711,932 for capital outlay, both the same totals appropriated for the school system this year. The total for the schools is $32,189,992, with addition of almost $6 million in debt service.
The budget recommends $4,011,475 in current expense for Sandhills Community College, which did not request an increase this year. The college did not ask for any capital expense funding. With the addition of debt service, the SCC budget totals more than $6 million.
The proposed budget restores longevity pay in the new fiscal year. The budget proposal defers capital outlay and maintenance costs but covers all debt service.
Under the budget proposal, the advanced life support tax will remain at its present level of two cents.
This tax is paid by all county property owners in addition to the regular 46.5 cent property tax. This tax covers operations for the ambulance/paramedic system.
The budget calls for no increase in water and sewer rates.
When other special funds, such as the airport and Convention and Visitors Bureau are added, the budget totals $125.3 million.
Property taxes remain the major source of revenue for the county, which has a tax base of $11.8 billion. Property taxation accounts for about 63 percent of revenues for the general fund, the fund that covers operational costs, including public education and the college.
The tax administrator has forecast "a flat year" for 2011-2012 with modest growth estimated at 0.29 percent, about $156,931.
Sales taxes, another significant revenue source, are expected to provide $320,000 in additional collections, about 3.2 percent.
"While this is modest when compared to prior years, it is still an increase and therefore a foward-looking indicator of economic trends," McSwain's budget message says.
Since fiscal year 2007-2008, the county has lost more than $6.2 million in sales tax collections.
The budget provides pay for 628 employees, down by nine for this year. The total includes 611 full-time personnel and 17 part-time positions.
Later in the Tuesday meeting, Commissioner Craig Kennedy suggested that the county reinstate the hiring freeze imposed a year ago. He proposed the freeze at least until the budget is adopted.
Kennedy said the county website lists 12 positions to be filled, and he said the county should hold those vacancies until the budget picture is clearer.
The board agreed to his proposal.
The public hearing on the budget will be held during the board's next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 17, at 6 p.m. The budget is to be adopted at the June 7 meeting.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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