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County tax rate could hold steady in upcoming budget

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
County commissioners appear ready to stick with the current property tax rate for the upcoming year, but have left the door open for some tweaking of the 2008-2009 budget.
The tax rate is 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
Commissioners held their first budget workshop Tuesday afternoon, with a second session set for 3 p.m. today.
For the first time, a majority of board members appear ready to ask the county’s 750 employees to pay a share of their health insurance costs.
Under the proposed budget, the county would pay $626 per month for each employee under the self-insurance program.
Commissioner Jim Sides and Chairman Arnold Chamberlain suggested employees pay $25 or $27 per month, pointing out that most private employers are passing along part of the increased costs of health insurance.
While a majority of board members appeared to favor the 4.1 percent cost-of-living pay increase for employees, they also agreed to look at some options that would reduce the percentage going to all employees, using a portion of the $1.2 million to provide additional increases for employees based on longevity.
In a cordial and at times humor-filled session, commissioners took turns praising Leslie Heidrick, the county’s finance director, for her work on the proposed budget. She served as interim county manager for four months.
One by one, commissioners spoke out on various elements of the budget. While some proposed minor cuts, no one suggested any additional spending.
Commissioners lamented the dire economic times and worried aloud that a recession could turn into a depression.
Chamberlain said the county can’t pull back and stop spending. He noted that when businesses and the public quit spending is when a recession turns into a depression.
Commissioners also agreed that if the economy gets worse, the budget can be adjusted as needed.
Commissioners Sides and Tina Hall suggested some cuts to the overall budget.
Hall favored about $2 million in cuts to reduce the need to pull $8 million from the county’s fund balance.
Hall and Sides suggested some reduction in school funding. Hall was not specific. Sides suggested funding the schools at 90 percent of the state average, cutting around $8 per student from the sate average of $1,565.
Sides garnered little support when he laid out a plan to reduce the property tax rate a penny by cutting $1.3 million from the budget.
Other budget items discussed included:
– Asking Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to seek a Gold Leaf grant for a new security system. The county would fund the system if the grant application is not successful.
– Keeping $20,000 recommended for the Rowan Museum. Sides and Chamberlain favored reducing the allocation to $10,000.
Commissioners will meet at 3 p.m. today in the Cohen Administration Building, 130 W. Innes St., to continue budget discussions.
A public hearing on the budget will be held Monday at 6 p.m. in the Cohen Administration Building.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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