Gary L Herman
The property tax rate in Alexander County will decrease 12 cents as the Alexander County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2023-2024 budget at the June 19th meeting. With the decrease, the property tax rate will be 67 cents per $100 valuation, effective July 1, 2023.
County Manager Shane Fox said the 2023-2024 general fund budget totals $55,970,932, which includes an appropriation of $2,820,826 from fund balance. The budget is approximately $1.2 million (2.4 percent) more than the 2022-2023 budget.
Fox said that since he began duties as county manager on June 8, numerous changes were made to the proposed budget resulting in a $964,153 decrease in appropriated fund balance.
“I would like to thank the finance staff and department heads for all of the work that went into this budget,” said Fox.
Chairman Marty Pennell said he is pleased with the latest cuts in the budget but believes more reductions can be made.
“I want to thank everyone who worked so hard on this budget. We’ve pushed harder than before to shave dollars off the budget this year. Mr. Fox has only been here a little over a week and saved us almost $1 million,” said Pennell. “This board feels that we can do better, but this is a great step in the right direction. I appreciate the teamwork as we all work together to do what is best for our citizens.”
General fund revenues are comprised of property taxes – 48 percent, sales tax – 24 percent, restricted/grants – 13 percent, sales and services – 8 percent, and other – 7 percent. Fox said the total tax base for fiscal year 2024 totals $4.028 billion following the recent revaluation.
General fund expenditures include public safety – 33 percent, health and social services – 27 percent, general government – 18 percent, education – 15 percent, culture and recreation – 4.5 percent, debt – 1.4 percent, and economic development – 1.1 percent.
Vice Chairman Josh Lail said, “The inflation rate has affected everyone across the country, state, and Alexander County. I think we can all agree that the cost of doing business has increased more than 2.4 percent over last year.”
Fire district tax rates remain unchanged in the new budget. There are no fee increases for building inspections or fire inspections.
For additional information, view the 2023-2024 Alexander County budget ordinance at https://bit.ly/23-24-budget-ordinance.
In other business:
• County Manager Fox took the oath of office, administered by Clerk to the Board Jamie Starnes. Fox was accompanied by his wife Jennifer and their three children – Ryan, Caroline, and Owen.
“It is a privilege to stand here tonight and take this oath. It’s been a good first week and a half, and I look forward to things to come,” Fox stated. “It really is an honor to be a part of this community and feel like we’re coming back home to Alexander County. It will be a place that we call home as soon as we can find a place to live. We’re very excited about it.”
• Commissioners approved amendments to the Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program Ordinance, as presented by Pamela Bowman, Soil & Water Education Coordinator/Administrator. She said the original ordinance was approved in March 2002, and the changes were necessary to comply with state statutes and to simplify the process.
• Commissioners approved the following committee reappointments: Region E Aging Committee – Billie Walker (2 years); Planning Board – Bud Caywood, Don Harrington, and William Mitchell (3 years); and CVCC Board of Trustees – Jeremy Fortner (4 years).
• Ashley Starnes, Chief of the Bethlehem Community Fire & Rescue Department, presented information about the Caleb Benfield Challenge, which is a junior firefighter summer camp held in memory of Caleb Benfield who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2012. This year’s group consists of four girls and 10 boys who are staying at the fire department this week and responding to calls. The goal of the challenge is to begin training the next generation of firefighters.
• Commissioners approved two budget amendments.
Consolidated Human Services Board Meeting
Following the regular meeting, commissioners convened a meeting of the Consolidated Human Services Board, which meets quarterly.
• Billie Walker, Public Health Director, presented an update on the Alexander County Health Department. She said the department has hired a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and a Public Health Educator, and only has one vacancy for an Environmental Health Specialist. The community health assessment was submitted to the state on April 1. The staff is currently working on the department’s strategic plan. Renovations have been completed in the conference room and lab area, and a storage building and electronic sign have been added. A scanning project has been implemented for Environmental Health. Walker said they hope to add a covered entry in the coming fiscal year. She said that when the state budget passes and Medicaid expansion begins, casework will increase for both public health and social services.
• Kristy Hunt, Senior Center Director, said local seniors continue to enjoy the many activities offered at the center such as exercise classes, needlework, woodcarving, line dancing, arts and crafts classes, games, seminars, and more. She said the seniors especially enjoy bingo and birthday lunches. Hunt said that LPI Communities will begin printing the center’s newsletter at no cost (with advertising), which will save the county approximately $3,500. The annual Senior Celebration was held on May 19 with 138 people in attendance. The staff continues to assist seniors with Medicare drug plans, with savings of $144,243 from January to May this year. Vicki Martin and Karla Bazaldua completed their Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) certification.
• Thomas Mitchell, Social Services Director, reported that the department currently has eight vacant positions to fill, with four recent hires. Employee engagement activities continue as a way to retain staff, including an Easter egg hunt, a Cinco de Mayo taco bar, and an ice cream social. He said that Medicaid benefits will end on June 30 for those who are no longer eligible following the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, which is estimated to affect 800 to 1,000 people in Alexander County. He said that a start date for Medicaid expansion will be given once the bill is signed into law. The expansion will provide funding for three additional Income Maintenance Caseworkers for a two-year period. The state estimates that Alexander County will have 3,000 expanded Medicaid cases. DSS staff continues to work on emergency shelter plans. Mitchell said there are currently 51 children in foster care, with 11 children free to adopt and 15 adoptions in the past year.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Monday, July 17 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). 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.