The commissioners spent most of the meeting listening to Ashe County Manager Dan McMillan as he offered the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
During his presentation, he said that no new taxes would be needed to plug a $2 million hole in the budget created by a difference between $30,253,909 the county needs to operate during the next fiscal year and expected revenues of $27,588,500.
McMillan proposed dipping into the county’s fund balance of approximately $8 million to plug the hole.
Dipping into the fund balance will allow the county to balance the budget without raising taxes, said McMillan.
“To balance this year’s budget, there must be approximately $2 million dollars of additional funds,” said McMillan; funds will be drawn from undesignated general funds, savings the county keeps in reserve to meet operating requirements.
The fund currently contains over $8 million dollars; McMillan said he feels comfortable using $2 million to bolster this year’s budget. “The remaining $6 million will give the county a comfortable cushion, should the need arise,” said McMillan.
“Using the general fund is also preferable to a tax increase to fill the $2 million dollar gap,” said McMillan.
To minimize the funds the county will need to utilize from the fund balance, McMillan said the budget offered to the commissioners Monday was less in overall expenses than the last fiscal year budget adopted by the county.
He said this year the county will need $30,253,909 to operate. In fiscal year 2010/11, the county budget adopted was $30,266,322.
McMillan also told the commissioners the county is adjusting its property tax rate to reflect the recent revaluation making it “revenue neutral.”
“Revenue neutral for Ashe County is the ability for a county to maintain the approximate revenue from the previous year by changing the rate of the ad valorem tax,” said McMillan.
McMillan proposes the reduction of the current ad valorem rate from “42.5 cents per $100 value to 40 cents per $100 value, a reduction of 2.5 cents per $100 value” in this year’s budget.
Ashe County Tax Administrator Keith Little explains that the county’s tax base has grown slightly since the last revaluation in 2006, leading to the decrease in the tax rate.
Questions were raised at Monday night’s meeting as to whether property tax rates were increasing too quickly, or valuations were too high.
During the public comment period, area resident Cynthia Wadsworth raised the issue of escalating property tax rates. “Frankly, you (the county commissioners) are hoodwinking us. I’m not going to remain revenue neutral this year; I’m going to pay more. I’ve had to learn to cut this year; I expect you (the commission) to do the same,” said Wadsworth.
When asked yesterday about the way property tax values are calculated McMillan said, ““I’ll admit we’re not perfect on everything and we make mistakes, but, if somebody brings a mistake to our attention, we’ll do everything we can to correct it.”
McMillan said calculating the tax base is difficult with 50,000 pieces of property to mass appraise.
Commissioner Judy Porter Poe also answered the criticism. “We’ve cut our budget. I think our commissioners and county have done a good job. There have been no raises for county employees in three years,” said Poe.
The ccommission also heard area raccoon hunter Biller Eller’s concerns about changing legislation that would allow hunters to use processed foods to draw raccoons for dog training purposes. Current laws disallow the practice.
“We don’t actually kill the ‘coons on these hunts. We train our dogs by drawing in ‘coons, treeing them, and then allowing them to go free,” said Eller.
Eller said there was confusion over the current law that allows raccoon hunters to use natural bait to bring in the animals, but disallows processed foods like candy and molasses covered corn because it also brings in bears. He said he knows of several hunters that have been ticketed because they were unknowingly using illegal tactics to draw raccoons.
Addressing the commission, NC Wildlife Biologist Chris Cray said “Processed bait piles artificially concentrate animals and aid in the spread of disease transmission, including rabies and canine distemper.”
N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission Officer Lt. Dennis Mehl said the county does have the authority to enact laws that would supercede those of the NC Wildlife Commission.
However, Mehl urged the commissioners to allow the state commission time to review and potentially make changes to the law.
“We’re trying to do a job that’s hard to do. Give the commission a chance to make the right call. We can’t please everyone, but we do our best to do what’s right,” said Mehl.
Chris Robinson, director of Ashe County Job Development, also addressed the commissioners Monday night about the possibility of dozens of new, and perhaps temporary, jobs being created by a local industry whose manufacturing capabilities were affected by the recent violent weather.
He said the recent outbreak of tornados that devestated the Southeast, including Glade Springs, Va and the Gates plant that operates there, opens the possibility that as many as 50 jobs could come to Ashe County.
Robinson said, “Many of my graduating students at the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College have been called in for interviews this past week.”
Final details about the potential job creation efforts are still being hammered out, said Robinson.
The county commissioners will meet starting June 6 to work out the details of this year’s budget. By state law, the new budget must be formally adopted by June 30.