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Rowan County adopts budget with no tax increase

By Sarah Campbell
scampbell@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — The county property tax rate and school funding remained untouched as the Rowan County Board of Commissioners adopted the fiscal year 2012-13 budget Monday.
One thing did change. For the first time in four years, county employees will get pay raises ranging from 1 to 2.5 percent.
Commissioners took less than 30 minutes to come to a consensus on the $128 million budget, despite several weeks of debate.
The board unanimously passed all funds except the general fund, which includes most of the county’s spending and revenues, during its regular meeting June 18.
Commissioners approved the spending plan 3-2 Monday, with commissioners Jim Sides and vice-chairman Carl Ford casting the dissenting votes.
Tax rate stays the same
The county’s property tax rate will hold steady at 62.25 cents per $100 valuation.
The decision to keep the current rate coincided with a discussion about adding another ambulance station in western Rowan County.
Commissioner Jon Barber asked the board to consider a quarter-cent decrease, but the motion died without support from anyone else on the board.
“I’m still of the opinion that this is doable,” Barber said.
Barber said a anticipated increase of $1.9 million in property tax revenue, an additional $600,000 in sales tax monies and a healthy fund balance support his point of view.
“It looks like we’re going to underspend the current budget by $2 million,” he said.
Ford said that’s why he’d like to see the property tax fall by a penny.
“If we’re going to cut, let’s cut and give taxpayers a break,” he said.
But commissioners Raymond Coltrain and Sides agreed now isn’t a good time for a tax cut.
“I agree in principle but, as I’ve said before, there are a lot of capital and operational needs,” Coltrain said.
Coltrain said any excess funds can be put toward an EMS center in Cleveland.
Sides said he supports “looking at whatever it takes” to put an ambulance station in the west Rowan area.
That’s why he didn’t support the tax decrease.
“One thing I’ve learned as a commissioner is that, when you’re doing budgets every year, you have to look at how what you do this year is going to affect next year,” he said. “There are a number of capital needs for the county that we need to address between now and next year’s budget, including an EMS station. I’m certainly in favor of that.”
The board unanimously passed a motion made by Coltrain to have Chairman Chad Mitchell begin working with county EMS director Frank Thomason to develop plans for the ambulance station.
“As of now, it’s not funded, I don’t want any misunderstanding about that,” Mitchell said. “But this is putting us on the record as saying that’s something we want to do hopefully within this budget year.”
School funding
Local per-pupil funding will increase by $22 following the board’s decision to allocate the same dollar amount to local schools as the previous year.
County Manager Gary Page had proposed cutting nearly $481,000, due to a projected enrollment decline of 309 students. That decrease would put the county on par with the state average.
Sides made a motion to add back $250,000 to be used strictly for classroom supplies, but it failed with only Ford backing it.
Barber’s motion to add the entire $481,000 back to the budget passed with Mitchell and Coltrain voting in favor.
Mitchell said he’d like to see at least a portion of the classroom supply money restored rather than funneling all of the money to pay for personnel.
Page said the decision means schools will receive $1,587 per student, up from $1,565.
The budget includes nearly $31.8 million for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, more than $1.9 million the for Kannapolis City district and about $115,900 for charter schools.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education had asked for an additional $1.25 million from the county. That would reinstate the $1 million the county cut last year and add $250,000 to cover benefit increases mandated by the state.
None of the commissioners supported that request.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College will also receive the same amount of funding as last year.
Commissioners denied a request from the college for a 3 percent increase, or an additional $260,130, for equipment replacement.
Pay hike
The county budget includes a graduated pay hike for county employees at a cost of $513,370.
It breaks down as follows:
• 1 percent for employees with at least one and less than five years of service
• 1.5 percent for those with at least five but less than 10 years of service
• 2 percent for at least 10 but less than 15 years of service
• 2.5 percent for at least 15 years of service
The original budget only called for raises for employees who have been with the county at least three years.
But Coltrain said he didn’t feel that was the “most fair thing to do,” so he asked for human resources director Darlene Boling to run some numbers.
Four different raise options were on the table Monday, ranging in cost from $460,193 to $697,435.
The cheapest option didn’t include raises for those with less than three years of service. The most expensive option did include the newer workers and called for a 3 percent raise for all employees who had been with the county at least 10 years.
Other highlights
The following decisions were reached by commissioners during the June 18 board meeting:
• Trim rescue squad funding from $400,000 to $350,000 last week
• Stay out of the Charlotte Regional Partnership unless the group allows the county to rejoin without having to pay the past year’s dues.
• Allocate an additional $13,212 to RowanWorks Economic Development, plus its $40,000 in Charlotte Regional Partnership dues if the county withdraws.
• Add a maximum of $32,000 for paperless agenda software
• Keep funding for the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce at $2,500.
• Increase fire taxes at Ellis Cross Country and Locke Township fire districts. Taxes will go up from 5.2 to 6.5 cents in Ellis and 5.33 to 6.5 cents in Locke.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost

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