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No property tax hike in draft county budget

LOUISBURG -- Franklin County commissioners will get their first chance to dig into the guts of a 2020-21 spending plan that doesn't raise the property tax rate, provides a bit of a pay boost for employees, raises solid waste fees and fully funds the school system's request.

The board is slated to have a work session on the matter today (May 21), three days after County Manager Angela Harris presented the $88.89 million spending plan to commissioners and the public. [Department heads had made $93 million in requests.]

The budget is available online and can be obtained in book form by contacting the county administration office.

A public hearing on the budget is slated for June 1.

"It has been a most unusual budget season, but I feel very pleased with the final product," Harris said. "I hope that it will be pleasing to the board."

The budget highlights include:

• No recommendation for a tax rate increase. The county's assessed tax base is $6.1 billion -- a 5.1 percent increase over the current fiscal year's budget, Harris said.

That, coupled with conservative sales tax projections and property tax collection rates, almost $750,000 less in overall spending than the previous budget and pulling $162,000 more from fund balance than the current budget has allowed the county to present a budget that does not call for a property tax increase.

"It is not my recommendation to continue this practice [of pulling from the fund balance]," Harris said.

"I'd like to talk with the board to put together a plan so that we wouldn't have a dependency on the fund balance in the future.

"We felt like this year, the situation and the climate that we're in, it was certainly appropriate."

Still, Harris said, the county's fund balance is above the percentage that the county established as a general rule;

• The budget does not include a transfer from the county's savings account to the solid waste fund. The current budget pulls just more than $412,000 from county coffers to balance the newly established enterprise fund.

Harris said the county was able to avoid using savings to pay for solid waste by reducing expenses and raising the solid waste availability fee from $90 to $100.

"We've done some surveying," Harris said. "That still is a competitive rate when surveying other counties.

"No other fee changes are being recommended;"

• Harris's budget recommends providing the school system $21.1 million to meet its operational expenses and $1 million to meet its capital needs -- both the full extent of what the school system requested, Harris said.

"My recommendation represents the largest investment in current expense for education on record," Harris said;

• The 2020-21 budget proposal does not recommend the implementation of a compensation and classification plan that would provide pay boosts for employees. Implementation of the plan would cost the county between $600,000 and $1.8 million -- without benefits.

"... Unfortunately, I don't recommend the implementation of any pay plan in this fiscal year," Harris said. "We want to look at that for the following year.
"... I think we're in a situation much more serious, now."

Instead, Harris is proposing a 2-percent cost of living increase for all employees beginning in January, costing the county $342,000.

"... I got feedback from the board that you wanted to make sure that we did something for all of our employees [and this does];"

• Department heads requested 13 new full-time posts. Instead, Harris' recommendation is for four new posts -- a school resource officer in Youngsville, a public health nurse, and two posts beginning in January, a community paramedic and fire marshal.

Those posts, according to County Finance Director Jamie Holtzman, will cost the county $211,000 -- including benefits;

• Beyond the 2-percent cost of living increase, the budget also includes $188,000 for an agreement with Open Broadband LLC to deploy the technology, focusing on unserved and underserved areas of Franklin County; $125,000 to craft the county's new Unified Development Ordinance; $40,000 to develop a countywide bike and pedestrian plan, $20,000 to pay for a long-gestating Epsom Park master plan;

• Harris informed the board that finance staff has explored opportunities to receive COVID-19 relief funding.

If eligible, Harris said the funding could be shared with towns at its discretion.

Currently, she said, the county is projecting how much it's expected to spend and include the towns in their plans. Those discussions, she said Tuesday, could take place in the next several days -- after the county has completed its projections.

• The virtual May 21 budget worksession begins at 3 p.m. and can be viewed by the public via Zoom and will be livestreamed on Youtube.

The sites are: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81639658146, and http://franklincounty.today/, respectively.


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