“Overall, the county has for the last few years fared very well,” McMillan said. “We have maintained services we know people expect us to provide. I think we will be able to continue to maintain those services. What is unknown is what’s going to happen with the General Assembly this year. We just don’t know.”
McMillan and Commission Chairwoman Judy Poe will be traveling to Raleigh in mid-January for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners committee meetings on legislative goals. This is where commissioners and county managers work on what they want to see happen. There are several goals this year, and the top two are making sure the state maintains the status quo when it comes to roads, and avoiding any new mandates requiring additional county funds including Medicaid reimbursements.
McMillan said the counties do not want financial responsibility for secondary or primary roads and want that to remain the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Forcing Ashe County to pay for maintenance of roads could result in an unwanted tax increase.
The state will look at how to continue funding Medicaid through a declining half-cent sales tax, McMillan said. When the state began keeping that half-cent sales tax for Medicaid, the revenue was close to $1 million, he said, but has since dropped to $800-900,000. Medicaid reimbursements to Ashe number about $3.5 million, he said.
The state has always paid part of the Medicaid reimbursements, but the big question, he said, is whether this will continue.
McMillan said he and Poe will participate in the NCACC committee meetings to discover the goals and projections by lobbyists of what to watch out for this fiscal year.
“We don’t really have any idea of what we’re looking at for revenue for 2010-11 until we get closer,” McMillan said. “I could estimate but I don’t know for certain until the General Assembly approves the budget. I have told department heads to maintain services for the coming year, but if we have less revenue, then how do you relate that to maintaining services? What will you have less of?
“The next six months will be real interesting for all the counties, in waiting to see what will happen. This is the long session they’ll be going into, but I don’t see the budget getting done by June 30, maybe not by August or September, and they’ll probably need an interim budget to keep the state running. The counties can operate on that, but we can’t wait for the state. We have to make a decision and do it. I believe the commissioners will do what is necessary to serve the citizens of Ashe County. It could hurt in the long run, and we may have to do what the state’s doing, cutting back, but we do what we have to do.”
McMillan said he is optimistic about the future. There are signs of recovery, and jobs being created in parts of the state. In Ashe County, there were more building permits issued in November than any other time of the year, he said.
Important issues for the coming year in Ashe include expanding parking around the courthouse campus area, completing the road out from the environmental services building behind the jail, completing a portion of the new landfill cell immediately and reaching a conclusion on when the rest can be completed, creating more parking for parks and recreation ball fields, expanding the airport runway, completing reconstruction of the pool at Ashe County Middle School, and updating the county website to include the airport.