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County releases budget; tax rates unchanged

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Rowan County’s proposed 2008-2009 budget would keep the current tax rate of 59.5 cents per $100 valuation but dip into county savings to do it.
The proposed budget recommends spending of $130.1 million, including $124.8 million in continued funding to maintain services and $5.2 million in new expenses.
The budget comes during one of the weakest county economies in recent history, with slow growth in taxes and interest rates.
Rowan County’s property tax base grew at 2.6 percent this year, which will bring in an additional $2.5 million. Historically, the tax base has grown at more than 4 percent.
Last June, when commissioners were working on the current budget, they had a whopping 11 percent increase in property tax revenue thanks to a revaluation.
Sales tax collections are expected to rise by 1 percent. Growth last year was 3 percent.
Leslie Heidrick, the county’s finance director who prepared the budget while serving as interim county manager, wrote in her budget message that “state and local economic numbers indicate a growing possibility, if not a reality, of a recession.”
Even with the new revenue, the county’s budget started out $2.6 million in the hole ó the amount needed to continue current operations without any expansions.
And while revenue projections are flat, county departments and agencies provided hundreds of pages of requests and supporting documents. Expansion item requests totaled $16.2 million. Heidrick, however, recommends only $5.2 million in new spending.
The proposed spending plan uses nearly $8.4 million from the county’s fund balance, or savings account, to balance the budget.
Heidrick said using part of the fund balance in the budget should not have a substantial impact on the county’s savings. Typically, the county doesn’t spend about 5 percent of its budget, which would leave most of the $8.4 million unspent.
Heidrick is recommending an increase of $1.9 million in current-expense funding for the Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis school systems and a charter school. That equates to $1,565 per student ó the most recently reported state-average per-pupil appropriation ó for a total of 22,048 students.
Under the proposed budget, the Rowan-Salisbury School System would get a total of $32.5 million for current-expense spending.
The funding is based on a projected decrease of 108 students from the Rowan-Salisbury system.
Another major increase is $1.2 million required to give the county’s 750-plus employees a 4.1 percent cost-of-living pay hike. The figure represents the 2007 consumer price index. Heidrick did not recommend a merit-pay plan.
The county’s health insurance program will require an additional $250,000. The county will pay $656 per month for each full-time employee.
Other expansion items in the proposed 2009 budget include:
– Temporary jail to house 100 inmates, expected cost $3 million to $4 million. The project will be financed at annual cost of $344,000.
– Increase in funding to Rowan-Cabarrus Community college of $80,000. The budget also includes $135,000 to fund a new security notification system to provide for better notification and safety of students.
– Fifteen new county positions at a total cost of $429,000. The Sheriff’s Office, Health Department and Social Services will get four new positions each, while Information Systems and the Rowan Public Library will each get one new position.
In some cases the positions are partly or entirely funded through state or other sources.
– An increase of $4,000 in special appropriations to non-county agencies. Requested new funding totaled $612,000.
The proposed budget also includes requests from three fire districts for a 1 cent tax hike. The departments seeking an increase are Bostian Heights, Franklin and Locke.
Commissioners received the budget books at the end of the board meeting Monday evening.
The board will hold budget workshops on May 27 and May 28, beginning at 3 p.m. each day in the Cohen Administration Building, 130 W. Innes St.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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