Harnett County Manager Paula Stewart presented the preliminary budget to the Board of Commissioners during a special session Tuesday morning.
At the top of the list for county residents, there will be no increase in property taxes for fiscal year 2020. The tax rate is set to remain the same at 75 cents per $100 of property valuation, meaning that a house valued at $100,000 will still cost taxpayers the same $750 a year it currently costs.
In order to help fund the new budget, Stewart called for reallocating just over $1.9 million from the county’s fund balance — the amount of money the county keeps on hand for expenses beyond the budget. Some officials call it the county’s “emergency fund”.
The proposed general fund budget totals just over $126.3 million and includes an increase in expenditures of 5.4 percent over last fiscal year. The increase was credited to the hiring of 22 additional positions within the county government — 15 of which were new school resource officers. County officials say the rise in expenses was also due to increases in health and dental insurance costs and an uptick in funding for Harnett County Schools to cover charter school payments.
With the increases in mind, along with the possibility of a future recession, Stewart called for a hiring freeze for county jobs.
The freeze would not include critical positions such as uniformed deputies and detention center staff.
“We are entering the longest economic expansion in history and a recession is bound to occur at some point in the future,” Stewart told commissioners. “Since we must be prudent in our spending, I am recommending a hiring freeze effective immediately for any vacancy other than law enforcement officers to increase our fund balance in preparation for a possible downturn in the economy.”
She explained the lack of being able to predict when such a recession might occur, called for a measure to estimate revenues conservatively.
“Because we are unsure of the timing of a recession, revenues were estimated conservatively, but not as if a recession will occur in fiscal year 2020. Had we taken that step, severe cuts would have been needed throughout the organization,” she said.
Stewart also called for a change eliminating midyear appropriations except for emergency cases. The county manager cited recent history as the best example of what longterm impact midyear appropriations can have for the county’s coffers.”
“The midyear appropriations in fiscal year 2019 led to a very difficult situation for the fiscal year 2020 budget,” she said. “Growth in revenues would have given us some flexibility to meet other priority needs, but these revenues were required to fund the full year cost of decisions made midyear.”
Budget by the numbers
According to Stewart, the budget includes general fund revenues totaling just over $126.3 million. That fund is balanced with:
- a projected $66.07 million in property taxes
- more than $18.2 million in anticipated sales tax revenue
- a little more than $21.03 million in projected intergovernmental revenue
There are a few fee increases included in next year’s budget. Those increases call for:
- a rise in animal boarding fees, if the animal is reclaimed, from $10 to $20
- an increase in residential solar panel inspections, which requires two visits, from $80 to $120 and
- a bump in modular home inspection fees from $375 to $500 and for “after the fact inspections” from $750 to $1,000.
Also included were three new fees for re-inspections and residential generator inspections and a parking fee for hangars or shade per month.
If a resident receives a notice of violation there will be a charge for re-inspections if the violations are not corrected. The second inspection will include a fee of $100 and if violations are still not corrected and a third trip is required, the fee will be $150.
Residential generator inspections will be $120 and $240 for an after-the-fact inspection.
The final new fee is a $100 charge for an open hangar or shade per month.
As far as expenses are concerned, a major portion revolves around Harnett County Schools and Central Carolina Community College.
According to Stewart’s budget message to the commissioners, the budget has allocated just over $24.2 million in current expenses, a total that does not include the funds to build new schools. Those will be paid for by separate pots of money.
Funding for CCCC’s current expense is proposed to increase to $1.3 million from the $1.1 million total in fiscal year 2019. The main increase came when funding for the Harnett County Promise program was approved. The county now contributes up to $210,000 for qualifying Harnett County high school graduates to attend CCCC for free for up to two years.
Capital funding for CCCC is proposed at $100,000 to partially fund improvements on its Harnett County main campus and to purchase maintenance equipment.
A public hearing on the budget will take place during the board of commissioners meeting on June 17. The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the new budget after the hearing.
It must be approved by June 30.
-Dunn Daily Record