Commissioners presented 2014-15 county budget

Wil Petty

May 22, 2014

The proposed Ashe County budget for fiscal year 2014-15 was formerly proposed during its regular meeting Monday, May 19.

No increase of the county’s property tax was proposed.

County Manager Sam Yearick presented the proposed budget and explained some of the key areas of the 43-page document.

“(The proposed budget) enables Ashe County to continue to provide services and maintain our infrastructure at our current level,” Yearick said. “Ashe County’s economy continues to move forward, but it has not returned to the growth levels experienced during the previous decade.”

According to the documents, Ashe County’s total budget is at $40,494,766, while $34,181,176 of that is within the county’s general fund, which experienced 2 percent growth.

This year’s estimated revenue in the general fund is $30,197,487, which Yearick said was an increase of $196,543 from the 2013-14 FY.

“This budget, like those of recent years, relies on a significant fund balance appropriation to balance the general fund budget,” he said. “The fund balance appropriation for this year is $3,983,689 compared to $3,509,859 in last year’s budget.”

According to the budget message prepared by Yearick, he wrote “Ashe County’s budges have included a total of $9,104,734 in fund balance from the general fund in the past three years; however, the county has been able to avoid actually spending the budgeted fund balance due to conservative spending by department heads and cautious revenue estimates. We expect the county will come very close to spending budgeted fund balance general fund in FY 2013-14, and believe the county will spend a minimum of $500,000 of budgeted fund balance in FY 2014-15.”

Commissioner William Sands asked if the proposed $500,000 to help Ashe Memorial Hospital was part of the proposed budget, to which Yearick said yes.

“I recommended in the budget that we fund (the hospital), and that is one of the reasons the fund balance appropriations shot up so high,” Yearick said. “I’m not very sure we could absorb that in our current budget. That’s more than likely the fund balance we will be spending.”

The new proposed budget does not suggest an increase on the property tax rate for the 2014-15 FY, but Yearick said an adjustment will most likely need to take place next year.

“We will have the public vote this year on whether they want to implement the (quarter-cent per dollar) sales tax and that will play a big part of what we talk about as far as next year’s tax rate,” he said. “Looking at the numbers, I don’t think it’s a question of will there be a tax adjustment. The question is where will the rate adjustment come from? Will it come from property tax or sales tax?”

Yearick said the county will be able to maintain employee health insurance for the 2014-15 FY without employee contribution.

“The original increase proposed buy our insurance carrier was 20 percent,” he said. “We are still in negotiations, but we believe the increase will fall between 0 percent and 5 percent.”

The budget also does not propose payroll reclassifications, adding or reducing county staff or increasing pay based on cost of living. The county employees received 1 percent adjustments due to cost of living in the 2009-10 and 2012-13 fiscal years.

Also, Yearick said the County should limit as much as it can when it comes to spending its fund balance, but said Ashe County was better off than most other counties when building up that balance.

“The county is very good at building fund balance and that’s one of the reasons the county has been successful at paying off buildings in such a short period of time,” he said. “Unlike a lot of counties, we have a big reserve here.”

Sands attributed the strong fund balance to the hard work of the county employees.

Budget meetings with the Board of Commissioners will start on June 2 and continue through June 6. Publicly, the Board will discuss the budget at its scheduled meeting on Monday, June 16.

Other proposals within the budget

$500,000 in funding to Ashe Memorial Hospital to stabilize finances

100 percent of animal licence fees (estimated $2,000) to Ashe Humane Society to use for its low cost spay/neuter program

• School expenses increased $93,433 to $4,541,475. Funding will provide $1,425 per average daily membership (3,187 students). School capital outlay remains at $100,000 and school technology equipment expenses remain at $118,072

• $335,258 for Wilkes Community College, a decrease from $352,169 last year. The extra money requested last year was for an automobile. WCC’s Capital Outlay fund remains at $15,000.

$408,480 for the Ashe County Public Library

• $431,243 for the Appalachian District Health Department

• $ 189,566 for Smoky Mountain Center

• $87,000 for a software upgrade to Microsoft Office, which is outdated in the county.

• $25,000 for tax administration for a vehicle, $57,257 for two law enforcement vehicles and $20,000 for a Department of Social Services vehicle.

• $482,200 for economic development

• $1,852,807 for the Ashe County Airport

• $136,256 for fire department contracts. $66,860 for N.C. Forestry contract, $11,686 Pond Mountain Fire Department, $10,740 Glendale Springs Fire Department. All other departments will receive under $10,000.

Proposed fire tax rates will remain unchanged for most districts. Yearick said Warrensville is requesting a $.02 (per $100) fire tax increase and Todd Fire Department is requesting a $.01 (per $100) fire tax increase.

Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.