Proposed county budget keeps tax rate unchanged level funds for schools

The Moore County tax rate will remain unchanged for fiscal year 2022, according to the preliminary budget presented by county manager Wayne Vest at a regular meeting of the county commissioners Tuesday. Moore County Schools’ operating costs will be capped at $31.85 million, $2.15 million less than that requested by the board of education.

In a detailed presentation to the board, Vest recommended a $180.18 million budget that is balanced with the expected revenue, as is required by North Carolina statute. The budget, an increase of 7% over the current year, includes 3% cost of living salary increase for county employees and adds 11 full-time positions. 

“As in years past, the recommended budget prioritizes education, public safety and health and human services,” said Vest. “The recommended budget maintains the county general fund tax rate at 51 cents per $100 of valuation. The Advanced Life Support rate will remain unchanged at 4 cents per $100, but the rural fire protection service rate is proposed to increase by 1 cent to 10.5 cents per $100 of valuation.

The budget proposed by Vest level funds for Moore County Schools’ operating costs at $31.85 million. In addition, $17.08 million debt service will be budgeted to repay loans taken out to build new schools. 

Included in the educational budget is $750,000 for school repairs and another $750,000 for the purchase of computers used by teachers and students. Those amounts have remained the same for the previous six years.

The total funding for Moore County Schools is proposed to be $48.93 million, or 27% of the entire county budget. The next two largest parts of the budget are for county employees and public safety, each at 14%.

In April, the Moore County Board of Education passed an operating budget for the coming year of $34 million, an increase of $2.1 million over the current year. Of that, $1.6 million for salary increases was intended for classified, non-teacher positions like bus drivers, custodians and maintenance staff. Another $500,000 is intended to cover raises for those teachers not covered by state funding and other increases in operating costs.

If the education funding by the county level remains as proposed, it will be up to the board of education to decide what programs to cut and if salary increases will remain in the school budget. 

Sandhills Community College will be funded at $7.62 million, including operating expenses and debt service.

Funds expected from the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 related federal economic stimulus package, are not included in the proposed 2022 budget, according to Vest. “There will be quite a bit of conversation and discussion as we get into the fiscal year, even before that, about the use of those funds,” said Vest.

A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for June 15. During the meeting, members of the public will be allowed to make comments before commissioners vote to adopt the budget. Adoption will likely come at a special meeting on June 17.

By law, the Moore County Commissioners must approve a budget before June 30.

The meeting was a milestone of sorts. For the first time in over a year, face coverings were not required of those in attendance. Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the mask-wearing requirement across the state and commissioners have followed suit. Although some in the audience decided to wear their masks, the sense of returning to normal was welcome by commissioners.

New Courthouse Financing

Commissioners voted unanimously to fund the construction of the new county courthouse with the sale of limited obligation bonds. A total of $73.1 million in bonds will be raised and paid back over the next 28 years at an interest rate not to exceed 4%.

The sale of bonds will also be used to finance East Moore Water District improvements and upgrades to the water treatment facility.

Feature photo: Moore County Manger Wayne Vest presents the preliminary budget on May 18.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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