County Manager Rick French presented the proposed 2019-2020 county budget to the Alexander County Board of Commissioners at their May 20th meeting. The proposed General Fund budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 totals $41,422,990.
The proposed budget has no property tax increase; however, there are proposed increases in all eight fire tax districts and fee increases in building inspections, zoning, and fire inspections. There are also increases in water and sewer fees. The revised budget for 2018-2019 totals $43,244,491 to date.
Jeff Peal, Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners, said the budget process is a balancing act as there are many financial needs with a limited revenue stream.
“We’ve been meeting and crunching numbers as we go down the budget path. County departments submitted their proposed budgets, and then we met with them to discuss their major priorities and needs,” Peal stated. “In addition to the departmental needs and funding requests from outside agencies, the county has several major projects underway that are good for our citizens and businesses.”
County Manager Rick French said that property valuations continue to show very little growth year after year.
Tax Administrator Guy Kerley presented a brief report to the board to discuss property valuations. From 2015 to 2018, Kerley said there was only a total of a five percent increase in property values, which he said is very flat with little increase in revenues. The last property revaluation was in 2015, with the next revaluation scheduled for 2023.
“There is little to no growth in property values in Alexander County, which makes new revenues very minimal,” French said. “Investments in water, sewer, broadband, and economic development will prove very wise in the near future.”
Chairman Peal agreed, “Our revenue stream doesn’t allow us to do everything we’d like, but as we move forward, let us move forward together to make Alexander County a better place We want to make our people proud of what we do with taxpayer dollars.”
French said the county has made some great progress over the past few years, including the Shurtape sewer project, Rocky Face Park phase 2, the CVCC Alexander Applied Technologies Center, Alexander County Services Center, new pump station at the Alexander Industrial Park, evidence storage building for the sheriff’s office, and a new branch library and senior center in Stony Point. Current projects include a $5 million water project, a $5 million sewer project in Bethlehem, a $1 million sewer project to provide wastewater service to Stony Point Elementary School, upcoming amenities at Dusty Ridge Park and Wittenburg Access Area, and more. “These are a lot of things that the county has done and is doing to provide investment in our county and to provide much-needed services to our citizens and businesses,” French said.
The largest request in the 2019-2020 budget came from Alexander County Schools at $7,860,798; however, the proposed budget maintains the current annual funding of $6,520,851. The county’s funding for the school system has increased has increased from $5,250,000 in 2014-2015 to its current level of $6,520,851. French said the board’s finance committee met with school representatives on May 20 just prior to the commission meeting to discuss school funding. Another work session is scheduled for May 30 at 6:00 p.m. at the Alexander County Administration Building to further discuss the school system’s budget request.
The second largest request for new funding was from the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office, which also includes the detention center and 911 communications. Current funding totals $7,008,252 plus an additional $831,433 for debt payments for the law enforcement and detention center. The sheriff’s office requested an additional $1,117,461. The proposed budget does include an increase in the sheriff’s budget to increase the minimum pay for deputies from $31,534 to $33,959 per year and for detention officers from $27,872 to $30,014. Part-time pay would also increase from $11.82 per hour to $14.08 per hour. While additional increases were requested, these raises will help combat the high turnover rate in the department.
The proposed budget also includes the funding of four full-time firefighter positions, with additional incentives to the volunteer fire departments and rescue squad, for a total of $147,000.
French also noted that the City of Hickory is raising water and sewer rates by 3.75 percent for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. With the upcoming water project, the county plans reduce the water connection fee system-wide from $1,143 to $541 to assist citizens with tapping on to the new water lines. He said the county currently has 5,300 water customers, and hopes to add 400 customers once the new lines are in place. Construction on the water project is expected to begin in September, with a completion window of 10 to 12 months. The Bethlehem sewer project will also begin later this year. Alexander County currently receives a $5 fee per month per sewer customer. French said he has met with the City of Hickory to develop a plan to help raise revenues for Alexander County. The county currently has 386 sewer customers.
A public hearing regarding the 2019-2020 proposed budget is scheduled for June 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education.
In other business:
• Bill Rogers, Alexander County Chief Code Enforcement Officer, informed commissioners that the county was evaluated by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) on November 28, 2018. As a result of the visit, the county received an ISO rating of “2” out of a possible “10,” with “1” being exemplary. The rating is based on how the county enforces their codes through plan reviews and field inspections. Rogers said a better ISO rating results in lower insurance costs. He attributed the improved rating to customer service and employee training. Commissioners expressed their appreciation to Rogers and his staff for the great improvements in the building inspections process in Alexander County.
• Josh Mitchell, Alexander County Director of Solid Waste & Recycling, presented a solid waste franchise renewal agreement with Republic Services. No vote was taken on the issue, but will be considered at the June 3rd meeting.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, June 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). Meetings are recorded and available for viewing on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. The meetings may also be viewed on the Alexander County Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192.