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County manager: No property tax increase needed

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — With the economy showing signs of new life, the county can balance the next year’s budget without raising property taxes, said County Manager Gary Page.
On Monday, Page gave commissioners copies of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-13, which does not include a planned half-cent tax increase to pay for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College bond debt.
The proposed budget is nearly $128 million. That’s an increase of $3.1 million over last year, but it would take less money from the county’s fund balance — $6.4 million instead of $6.9 million.
“This past year, the county has seen growth in revenues again and possible signs that the recession has ended with a slight uptick in the economy,” Page said in his written budget message. “With increased revenues, the recommended budget will allow the county to cover the cost of operating a new jail, the retirement of new Rowan-Cabarrus Community College bond debt, the return of three furlough days taken in 2009 and still appropriate less fund balance to balance the budget.”
Per pupil funding to the school systems will stay the same, but total funding will drop a bit to match enrollment.
Page recommends that the county give $31.3 million to Rowan-Salisbury Schools — a decrease of nearly $435,000 from last year. Kannapolis City Schools would receive nearly $1.9 million, and $114,000 would go to the county’s charter schools.
The county plans to continue its $375,000 separate education appropriation to Rowan-Salisbury Schools, which in the past has been used to provide classroom supplies and materials for teachers.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College would get a 3 percent increase in funding under the county’s proposed budget.
In November 2010, voters approved a 1.25 cent tax increase for a $12 million bond to pay for capital improvements at the college.
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Page said the county “has attempted to right-size government” over the past three years through department consolidations, funding cuts and job cuts.
He still presents a tight budget, but it seems the economy may be slowly starting to grow again.
“Our revenues have stabilized this past year, with increases expected for both property and sales taxes,” Page said. “These increases are due to better consumer confidence in the economy and growth in the tax base.”
Sales tax revenue is expected to go up by 3.75 percent, or $600,0000. Thanks to a 2 percent growth in the tax base and a better collection rate, property tax revenue is expected to rise by $1.9 million.
The county also will receive another $812,000 in grant funds and Medicaid transportation revenue to enhance Rowan Transit System services. That brings the county’s total new revenue to $3.6 million.
The budget includes $1.9 million in new continuation expenses, including economic development grants, sheriff’s department vehicles and fuel, operation of the new satellite jail and additional Rowan Transit System services.
Debt service expenses will go down by $1.3 million, due to retirement of the South Rowan Water debt and savings from a 2011 bond refunding.
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Page said the county received nearly $6.1 million worth of expansion budget requests, but he only recommends $1.2 million of those.
That includes increases for a few nonprofits and other non-county groups, including the Rowan Transportation Museum, the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and RowanWorks.
Page will add nine new positions out of 33 that were requested, including four new telecommunicators for the county’s 911 center.
One internal auditor, one transportation technician, one health pregnancy care manager and two child protective social workers would be hired.
The proposed budget also would cut three positions. Two codes enforcement employees would lose their jobs, and a vacant maintenance position would be cut.
“These eliminated positions are the result of an effort to cut overhead and match resources with the need for service,” Page said. “The Codes Enforcement Department… has seen its building permit fees decline from $1 million in 2008 to $350,000 for 2012-13.”
For the fourth year in a row, the budget would not include raises or cost-of-living adjustments for county employees. But Page does recommend paying back $375,000 for three furlough days they took in 2009.
Employees would pay more for dependent care health insurance premiums, because of a likely 2 percent increase in health care costs.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics
Facebook: facebook.com/ Karissa.SalisburyPost

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