Gary L Herman
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on June 5th to allow public comment and discussion on the proposed 2023-2024 county budget. Chairman Marty Pennell said the proposed budget includes a 12-cent property tax decrease to help offset the increased property values following the recent revaluation.
The proposed budget was originally presented at the May 15th meeting, with some additional cuts made prior to the June 5th meeting. Chairman Pennell summarized the budget, noting that the proposed General Fund budget currently totals $56,617,207, which utilizes $3,784,979 in fund balance. The proposed 12-cent property tax decrease would reduce the tax rate to 67 cents per $100 valuation.
The proposed budget includes no tax increases in the fire districts and no fee increases for building inspections or fire inspections. Although fire tax rates will remain unchanged, all fire districts will receive additional funding for 2023-2024 as a result of the property revaluation. The City of Hickory is proposing a 10 percent increase in water and sewer rates for 2023-2024.
Chairman Pennell said revenue sources include: property taxes – 47 percent; sales tax – 24 percent; grants – 9 percent; permits, fees, and services – 8 percent; fund balance – 7 percent; intergovernmental funds – 3 percent; and miscellaneous/other sources – 2 percent.
“As with many rural counties like Alexander, taxes make up a large portion of our revenues,” Chairman Pennell said. “Without the variety of additional funding sources which larger counties and metropolitan areas around us have access to, Alexander County must rely heavily on its tax streams as a way to generate funds to support operations.”
Chairman Pennell also reviewed the General Fund expenditures, which include: public safety – 29 percent; human services – 25 percent; general government – 17 percent; education – 14 percent; transfers to other funds – 9 percent; culture and recreation – 3 percent; debt service – 1 percent; economic and physical development – 1 percent; and environmental protection – 1 percent.
Commissioner Kent Herman said he believes the proposed budget still needs some work. “Where we are right now with the budget, I can’t support it. The county just went through revaluation and that’s hitting the taxpayers pretty hard. Our citizens deserve better. It’s been a long time since we made some strong cuts.”
Vice Chairman Josh Lail said developing a budget is not an easy task. “Coming up with a budget is not haphazard. When I look at all the departments and line items, revenues and expenses, it’s somewhat overwhelming. I’d like to see additional cuts we could make that are not significantly detrimental to departments and services.”
Commissioner Ronnie Reese said he’d like to see additional cuts before adopting the new budget. “There are certain services we must have, but I’m not happy with where we are now. I’d like our new county manager to have a look at this proposed budget and he’s already said that he will.”
The new County Manager, Shane Fox, will begin duties this Thursday, June 8.
Chairman Pennell said he’d like to find a happy medium. “We can only operate with the means we have. Fortunately, over the past 6-7 years, Alexander County has done a great job to save money and spend wisely. If you don’t keep the tax rate at a certain level, you can’t provide the amount of services that citizens are demanding. I think the county should have certain things for families and youths to enjoy. I agree that I’m not happy with the budget, but I don’t know where we go from here.”
Pennell continued, “We keep referring to our new county manager. He’s not a magic wand, so I don’t want anyone to think that he’s going to fix everything as soon as he gets here because we’re setting him up for failure if that’s the case. But we do believe that he will have a good, strong mind to help us right the ship.”
Lail emphasized that Alexander County is rural and largely agricultural. “The one thing that will help Alexander County is growth…in retail, commercial, and housing. As a board, we’re looking at a lot of things to make development as affordable as possible, so businesses, builders, and developers want to come here. Most of our budget involves things required by the state. We’re not going to do anything that we don’t have to unless it’s a benefit to the citizens of Alexander County.”
Commissioner Larry Yoder said he believes the county is in good financial condition. “I just don’t feel like it’s all doom and gloom. I think everyone knows that the cost of business has gone up. We still want the services, but to get those services it will cost us more. I can assure you that these commissioners have done everything they could to make sure this county stays in a responsible financial condition. I’ve looked at the tax rate and been over the budget, and I really feel like 67 cents is what it will take to be able to meet the needs of this county. This county is in good financial shape. There will be no excess spending and we’ll make sure of that.”
It was noted that the county’s only debt is for the law enforcement center, which will be paid off in 2026.
During the public hearing, one citizen expressed concerns related to previous suggestions of cutting the library budget; however, no cuts are included in the proposed budget. He said the library staff does an incredible job, and urged the board not to cut library resources, hours, or funding.
The budget is scheduled to be adopted at the June 19th meeting at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103).
In other business:
• Commissioners approved two rezoning requests. Brian Burgess, Director of Planning and Development, said that one request involved 3.75 acres located on the corner of NC Hwy. 16 North and Old Wilkesboro Road Extension, to be rezoned from Residential-Agricultural (RA-20) to Highway-Commercial (H-C). Burgess said the second request involved 14.81 acres on several tracts of land on Boston Road and Carolina Lane to be rezoned from Suburban Residential (R-3) and Residential (R-20) to Residential-Agricultural (RA-20). He said that both rezoning requests are consistent with the Alexander County Comprehensive Plan and were recommended for approval by the planning board.
• The board reconsidered a request from Thomas Mitchell, Director of Social Services, to allow DSS supervisors to work from home one day each week as part of the department’s efforts to recruit and retain employees. It was noted that non-supervisory staff are already teleworking. Commissioner Larry Yoder had to call in to participate in the May 15th meeting and said he misunderstood the vote. After some discussion, the request was approved by a vote of 3-2.
• The board approved the following appointments to county committees: Council on Aging – appoint Jana Brown for 3 years; Historic Preservation Committee – reappoint Betty Long for 3 years; and Juvenile Crime Prevention Council – reappoint Krista Hiatt, Zack Shepherd, Keri Jerrell, Ronnie Reese, and Eugene Smith for 2 years.
• Commissioners approved the consent agenda, which included the purchase of 14.675 acres of land adjacent to Jaycee Park for a price of $21,000. The land will allow for future expansion of the park, although no plans are currently in place. The consent agenda also included an agreement between Alexander County and the Alexander County Family YMCA to build and maintain a new soccer field on YMCA property. The recreation department and its youth soccer programs will have priority in scheduling the use of the new field.
• Commissioners approved five budget amendments.
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners typically meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. The next meeting is set for Monday, June 19 at 6:00 p.m. Meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.