County commissioners say no tax increase likely

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
While county commissioners can’t do anything about the skyrocketing price of gas, they have a bit of good news for property owners.
Commissioners have decided there will be no tax increase this year.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, cited informal discussions in saying there is no support on the board for a tax hike this year.
Chamberlain also said the county has some needs that commissioners will have to deal with, regardless of the money available.
“If you’re looking to raise taxes, this isn’t the year to do it,” said Chad Mitchell, vice chairman. He said his priorities are to keep schools funding at the state average and keep county employee salaries moving forward.
Mitchell said it will all depend on number crunching and how much or little growth money the county has.
The souring economy, particularly the housing market, has cut into money the county depends on to pay for new programs or increases in ongoing programs.
In a typical year, the county has $4 million in new or extra dollars in growth from property taxes and additional money from other fees and taxes.
Leslie Heidrick, finance director and interim county manager, expects a 2.5 percent growth in property tax revenue. In a normal year, the growth rate is 4 percent.
Growth in sales tax has also hit the brakes. Typically 4 percent, it is now projected to be about 1 percent for the coming year.
Also, fees from building permits and real estate transfer taxes are both expected to decrease during the coming year.
Heidrick is combing through the budget, trying to come up with a way to meet the likely obligations.
Commissioners have said they want to maintain the state average in per pupil spending.
That will go up $88 per student for the coming year. That will cost the county an additional $1.9 million for county students in the Rowan-Salisbury, Kannapolis City and charter schools.
A cost of living increase of 4.1 percent, the consumer price index for 2007, will cost the county $1.6 million. Health insurance costs for the county’s 750 employees is expected to go up $250,000.
Heidrick expects to increase the fuel line item in every department budget by 20 percent and hope that is enough to deal with the rising cost of gas. The total cost hasn’t been calculated yet.
Heidrick said the county may get as much as $500,000 in relief this year from Medicaid.
Lottery proceeds for the school continue to fall.
Heidrick said the state projected $3.5 million for Rowan in 2007. The county budgeted $2.5 million, but didn’t make budget.
This year the proceeds will again fail to make the $2.5 million budget.
The state has cut projections to $2.3 million for the coming year.
Heidrick and commissioners are looking for ways to carry out some essential projects.
Chamberlain said commissioners will handle some additions, including possibly a few new employees at the Department of Social Services.
And the board is expected to approve building a low-cost jail to house nearly 100 inmates in a dormitory setting. The jail is expected to cost about $4 million. The county will finance the project.
Much of the cost will be offset by the nearly $1 million annually the county is now paying Sampson County to house 40 Rowan inmates.
Commissioners will get their first look at the proposed budget at the May 19 meeting and at budget sessions in early June.
Chamberlain said once the budget is finished, commissioners plan to start work in August in conjunction with the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education in coming up with a new central office.
“We’re now unanimously convinced that something must be done,” said Chamberlain, adding that all options will be on the table.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@