Polk manager drafts revenue neutral 2017-2018 budget

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2017

COLUMBUS – Polk County’s tax rate will remain revenue neutral if commissioners approve county manager Marche Pittman’s budget draft submitted this week.

County commissioners held a special meeting on Monday, May 8 where Pittman submitted his budget draft for fiscal year 2017-2018. The total budget is for $28,848,595 including all funds. The recommended tax rate for next year is 52.94 cents per $100 of valuation, which is a decrease from this year’s 53.75 cents because of the recent property revaluation. In order for the county to receive the same property tax revenues, the slight decrease in the tax rate was necessary.

Polk County had planned to increase taxes next fiscal year in order to help pay for the new law enforcement center currently under construction, but commissioners have said several times this year they’d like to see a revenue neutral tax rate for next year.

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“The proposed tax rate of .5294 is considered the revenue neutral tax rate as calculated by the North Carolina Department of Revenue worksheet,” Pittman said. “Based on our calculations and the NCDOR (North Carolina Department of Revenue) worksheet, our revenue neutral tax rate adjusted for growth would be .5336. Revenue neutral means that we receive the same overall amount of tax revenue after the revaluation.”

The draft budget does include the county using its fund balance to pay for one time capital expenses next year, which totals $546,676 worth of expenditures in the general fund next year.

Major capital expenditures included in the manager’s draft budget include $201,740 for new vehicles and capital needs for the sheriff’s office; $134,000 for two new vans for the transportation (state will reimburse all but $13,702); $89,000 for recreation to light Searcy Field; $50,000 for solid waste to purchase recycling bins, an overhead building and grading work at the old Little Mountain Landfill; $90,446 for the jail to purchase a van, handheld radios and Tasers for the new jail facility; $36,000 for animal control to purchase a truck cab and chassis to replace the existing truck; $34,924 for the department of social services (DSS) to purchase a vehicle, computers, printers, tablets and scanners (the county will be reimbursed all but $15,716); $30,736 for building inspections to purchase a new vehicle for the new inspector; $25,984 for EMS that includes the purchase of a quick response vehicle (SUV or truck); $18,290 for MIS to upgrade servers and equipment; and $10,000 for a replacement utility cart at the recreation complex.

Personnel changes next year are expected to include the sheriff’s office filling 12 new jail positions to staff the new law enforcement center, which is expected to open at the beginning of 2018, about halfway through next fiscal year. Of the 12 new positions, 11 of the new positions will not be hired until the new law enforcement center opens while one position will be hired sooner to help train and prepare for the transition into the new facility, according to Pittman.

An additional EMS position has also been budgeted next year to give the county 24/7 coverage of two EMTs per truck.

“This will give us two fully staffed trucks at all times with full-time staff,” Pittman said. “All of the expense was taken out of the existing EMS budget.”

The county also plans to create a new building code enforcement officer position for projected increase in volume. Pittman said a person will only be hired if necessary to offset an expected increase in permits.

In the tourism department, the draft budget includes changing the current part-time position to full time.

The draft budget also includes a merit-based, one time payment incentive for all eligible employees effective Jan. 1, 2018 as well as a state mandated employer contribution rate increase of approximately 0.25 percent to the retirement system for county employees and an anticipated three percent increase in health insurance.

All fire departments are budgeted in the draft to remain at revenue neutral tax rates.

“This general fund budget is balanced and is decreased overall from our current year amended budget by 3.1 percent,” Pittman said, “primarily due to fund balance appropriation. The overall budget, including General Fund, Special Revenue Funds, Capital Project Funds and Enterprise Fund is decreased by 34 percent, primarily because of jail construction in the current year. This budget will allow us to maintain and improve upon services to our citizens. I appreciate all of the hard work, effort and sacrifice that was put into this process by our department heads. I also appreciate all of your input during the budgeting process and look forward to the coming fiscal year.”

Revenue neutral means that the county is adjusting its tax rate to receive the same amount of property and vehicle taxes overall. Property owners whose property values rose during the recent property revaluation will still see increases in their property tax bills. Property owners whose properties stayed the same value should see the same property tax bill as this year and property owners who saw a decrease in their values will see a decrease in their property tax bills over this year. The recent revaluation ended with 65 percent of Polk County’s properties seeing the same property values or a decrease while 35 percent, mostly in the Green Creek Township, saw increases, some as much as 300 percent higher values.

Commissioners will have the first budget work session to discuss the budget draft and make adjustments on Monday, May 15 at 1 p.m. Another budget work session will be held on Tuesday, May 16 at 3 p.m. with another scheduled for June 5 at 6 p.m. A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for June 5 at 7 p.m. with commissioners scheduled to adopt the new budget on June 19.

The new budget year begins July 1.