Cabarrus County’s property tax rate will not change and the county will increase funding to agencies that have seen increases in demand in recent years, including public safety, schools, human services and public health.The county commissioners on June 17 will hold a public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2014 budget and, more than likely, will adopt it the same night with little or no debate.If the budget is adopted as it’s written now, most departments will be funded at last year’s levels. Perhaps better news is that county leaders say a tax increase isn’t expected for the next five years or more. County Finance Director Ann Wilson predicted the county can maintain its tax rate of 70 cents per $100 property valuation. She said it will yield a 2.55 percent increase in revenues for fiscal 2014. The proposed budget puts just more than $213,487,000 in the county’s general fund. Additional proposed funding includes roughly $9.3 million for the county’s health insurance fund, $1.5 million for the Cabarrus Arena & Events Center fund; $926,000 for the landfill fund and $755,000 for the 911 emergency telephone fund, for a total of more than $226 million.About $133 million of that comes from local taxes, delinquent taxes and interest, said Wilson. The rest comes from sales tax and revenue from the federal and state governments. “Since we had our revaluation in 2013 … our revenues declined significantly on the ad valorem tax rate,” said Wilson. For the current year’s budget, the commissioners last year increased the tax rate from 63 cents to 70 cents per $100 property valuation.“I’m trying to be conservative in the revenue estimates,” Wilson said, “… but everybody either held their ground or gained slightly.” Mike Downs, a county employee for 27 years, has served as county manager for 18 months.“We’ve got some additional revenues, so we’ll be able to meet some of the needs we’ve not been able to meet the last three or four years during the down economy,” he said. The county commissioners met in a three-day budget workshop at the end of May. At that workshop, multiple agencies made their cases for funding increases. “They’ve given us direction through the budget workshops, and we are making changes accordingly. So now, all they have to do is hold the public hearing Monday night,” said Downs.More money, better servicesExpected budget increases would allow for four police patrol units in Midland, the cost of which would be split between the county and the town. Because demand for human services is expected to grow, the county will add personnel there, too. The county also helps fund Cabarrus County Schools, Kannapolis City Schools and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. All of them could get more money than last year, but not much more.“Funding schools is always a tough one, because their needs are always greater than our capacity to meet them sometimes,” said Wilson. “We did what we could, and we have increased our funding for the schools. “I’m also pleased our law enforcement is increasing, and I’m real pleased employees got a cost of living (adjustment) and our merits (raises based on exemplary job performance) have been restored.” There’s a possibility the county could realize more revenue than expected in fiscal 2014, which begins July 1. In that case, the county may consider funding for a couple of projects. It’s likely that money would be funneled into the school systems, said Wilson, to address the Cabarrus County Schools’ capital improvement needs. Possible options include renovating a planetarium at Central Cabarrus High School or paying for Concord High School’s fire/public safety academy, a 4-year-old program that works with Concord’s Department of Fire & Life Safety. Commissioners pleasedFirst-term county commissioner Steve Morris called the budget favorable and said the recent budget workshops were enlightening. “We were able to hear first-hand from agencies … who justified why they asked for what they asked for and what implications there might be if they didn’t get everything, or what they’d do if they only got part of what they asked for,” said Morris. “In the environment that we’ve been operating in since 2008, we’ve seen decreasing revenues and have had to get cut or postpone certain needs, and we’re not involved in any of those types of activities this year.” Morris, along with commissioners Liz Poole and Chris Measmer, agreed there is nothing contentious in this year’s budget. Measmer, a third-year commissioner who voted against adopting the proposed budgets the past two years, said he’s very pleased with the proposed budget this year.“I believe they’ve put together a very conservative budget,” he said. “I believe this one’s fair, and I think the staff has done a wonderful job at keeping spending where it was.” Measmer, a self-described conservative Republican, said he’s most irritated about a federal mandate from the Affordable Care Act, which he said would force the county eventually to add staff in its human services department. “Our case load is expected to triple at the Department of Human Services because of the Affordable Care Act,” said Measmer. “If we didn’t do this, the state and federal government would hold us accountable and fine us for not administering the programs.”Liz Poole, chairwoman of the board of commissioners, said changes in the proposed budget may be discussed, but she’s confident a majority of commissioners will vote to adopt the budget June 17.“I think the outlook for Cabarrus County is a positive one, and that’s helped make the budget a little bit easier to get through this year,” she said. “We’ve been able to do things this year that are very beneficial for the agencies we support.”Projections from an improving economy will allow the commissioners to move beyond the past few years of spending cuts and a tax hike.“The county is the checkbook for a lot of entities, and we’ve been hearing them over the last few years, as things have been extra-tight, and they’ve been patient with us, just as community members have been,” said Poole.
Friday, Jun. 14, 2013
No tax increase in proposed Cabarrus County budget
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