Facing a sharp drop in sales tax revenue as a result of social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, County Commissioners began the process of setting the budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 that begins in July. The preliminary budget that County Manager Wayne Vest presented in a special electronic meeting Wednesday did not call for a property tax increase but did include water and sewer user fee increases.
According to Mr. Vest, the county estimates a $3.2 million reduction in sales tax due to the stay-at-home order issued by Governor Roy Cooper and the resulting impact on business. “We had to go in and significantly reduce what our estimates are for sales tax,” said Vest.
Still to be considered is what to do about the request for a $3.46 million budget increase over last year by Moore County Board of Education. Then there is the matter of trying to estimate the decline in sales tax revenue.
The preliminary budget presented to the County Commissioners is for $167.76 million, a cut of $7.21 million from the current year. It does not propose to use any fund balance for operational costs. It also does not include across-the-board salary increases for county employees.
A public hearing on the budget will be held on June 16 before the final budget can be adopted. At that time, the public is permitted to ask questions and provide input. The Board of Commissioners plan on another meeting on May 19 to consider the formal budget. Additional meetings may be held, depending on need.
“We have incorporated within our budget process times when people can come together to express their concerns and have an opportunity to see what we are working with,” said Commissioner Louis Gregory. “This is something I have advocated for, and I think all of us have, to make sure the public is involved.”
Under North Carolina law, the budget must be in place by June 30 and must be balanced. Expenditures are required to be offset by the estimated revenue collected. Education, public safety and employee salaries make up the largest portion of the budget. On the revenue side, property taxes make up the majority of the revenue, followed by sales tax on goods and services then usage fees.
A 2% rate increase in water rates for the East Moore Water District and Moore County Public Utilities is proposed for next year’s budget. Those two parts of the budget are self-supporting. All the operational costs are collected from fees and charges under what is called an Enterprise Fund.
The Moore County Health Department requested additional funding for five full-time nurses to perform contact tracing. That work involves notifying people that have been in close contact with a person exposed to the coronavirus.
Recently, the Board of Commissioners approved $96,000 for additional testing materials. The board also reaffirmed its intention to provide any resources needed.
In an earlier meeting, County Commissioners received the Fiscal Year 2020-21 request from Moore County Board of Education for $36 million. After hearing the request, a provision that would have set aside at least 40% of the county budget was rescinded.
The educational budget request represents nearly an 11% increase from the previous year and would exceed 40% of the county budget. Extra teachers and salary increases for support staff were cited as the reason for additional expenditures.
“This has been a good overview,” Chairman Frank Quis said. “This is a work in progress. We will give thought to this.”
~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.