County budget: No tax increases, funding for some school security projects
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Pitt County’s proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget has no property tax increase and provides extra funding for education, but significantly less than what was requested.
The Pitt County Board of Commissioners started its three-day budget workshop on Tuesday with County Manager Scott Elliott presenting the overall budget package. Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker and Pitt Community College Vice President of Administrative Services Rick Owens also gave presentations.
Today’s meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. with Sheriff Neil Elks presenting budgets for his department and the detention center, followed by Emergency Management Director Allen Everette’s presentation.
The county’s proposed 2018-19 budget is $234.7 million, a nearly $11 million drop from the current fiscal year, Elliott said. The reduction came because the state now is managing child care funding, reducing the social services budget by $7 million.
There also is a $2 million reduction in delinquent tax revenue collections, the result of the county achieving 99 percent tax collection in recent years, Elliott said.
The bulk of Elliott’s presentation focused on the general fund, which drives the ad valorem tax rate, he said.
Elliott proposed a $166,112,991 general fund budget. The revenue is coming from an estimated 2.2 percent increase in ad valorem taxes. Sales tax revenues also are expected to increase 10.7 percent. There also will be an additional $100,000 from ABC revenues and a $3.357 million fund balance appropriation.
The ad valorem tax remains at 69.6 cents per $100 valuation. Seven-tenths of a cent funds economic development programming and 68.9 cents goes to the general fund.
Pitt County Schools requested $43.2 million, a $4.6 million increase from the current year. Elliott is recommending a $40.55 million budget, including a one-time appropriation of $988,368 to fund corridor safety improvements at 34 schools.The money will come from the quarter-cent sales tax, Elliott said.
Pitt Community College sought $6.6 million, an $833,699 increase. Elliott recommended a $5.988 million budget, a $78,99 increase. It includes repurposing available project funds to generate $794,230 for deferred maintenance needs.
Lenker requested $3.7 million for one-time security upgrade costs, including the corridor safety project, cameras for school buses and cameras in schools.
Lenker said he plans to ask the sheriff’s office and local municipalities about funding for school resource officers. The town of Farmville secured a grant to fund an officer, he said, and the town of Winterville is exploring the option.
Commissioners Mary Perkins-Williams and Jimmy Garris asked why the school system wants cameras in buses.
“When I look at issues we’re having in schools, it’s not on buses,” Garris said.
Most bus problems are discipline issues and bully issues, Lenker said. The school system can present the video to parents when addressing issues.
Commissioner Mark Owens Jr., chairman of the Board of Commissioners, asked Lenker why he did not present a priority list that the commissioners requested. If the commissioners wanted to give the school system additional funding, they would not know where it should go, Owens said.
Elliott said there is no more money and additional funding would require a tax increase.
The need for additional school resource officers emerged as the top priority, at least for the commissioners.
Commissioner Glen Webb asked if a referendum could be held on a tax increase to hire additional resource officers. County Attorney Janis Gallagher said referendum votes only are for tax increases to fund capital projects such as construction.
Webb said Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed using $130 million in extra revenue to fund more counselors, resource officers and construction projects to improve security. Legislative leaders have said they will not take it up until the General Assembly reconvenes on May 16.
“If we can get a special session about a bathroom, why can’t they have a special session for security?” Webb asked.
The repurposed $794,230 in Pitt Community College’s budget will fund a $225,000 roof replacement for the Vernon White building, $216,480 in updates to heating and air conditioning controls in the Warren, Whichard, Humber and Whitley buildings, $135,000 in repairs to the G.H. Leslie building and $180,000 for the first phase of replacing interior locks in buildings across campus and other maintenance costs.
County employees will find themselves paying more for health insurance in the proposed budget.
The county employee medical insurance plan is self-funded and managed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
Elliott said its fund balance, which was 15 percent of annual expenditures a year ago, is expected to drop to 9 percent when the current fiscal year ends. Increases are needed to stabilize it.
After working with a consultant, Elliott is recommending increases in monthly premiums but not the monthly employee participation fees.
The monthly single employee premium, which is paid by the county, currently is $626; he recommends increasing it to $660 to still be paid by the county. Participation fees paid by employees will be unchanged.
Employees paying for family coverage will see their monthly premium rise to $660, a $34 increase. Parents’ child coverage will be $376, a $19 increase and employee/spouse coverage will be $548, a $28 increase. Staff also will pay a $150 deductible for prescription drugs before qualifying for co-pays. The co-pay amounts also are increasing in three of the four categories.
Elliott recommended funding employee pay-for-performance increases — which range from 1.2 percent to 2.4 percent — but said a cost of living adjustment was not possible. Elliott wants to review cost of living adjustments mid-year, saying if revenue collections are higher than expected an adjustment will be proposed on Jan. 1.