County’s proposed budget leaves out some notable items

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

SALISBURY — There’s no shortage of requests in Rowan County’s budget, and Rowan County Manager Aaron Church wasn’t able to fund most new items in order to avoid a tax increase.

Many of the most notable requests that remain unfunded are capital projects, including a new south Rowan satellite office for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, a new roof on the county building at 402 N. Main St., new voting tabulators, a generator for the Health Department and Social Services Building and capital outlay for the Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis school systems.

Granting requests for currently unfunded capital projects items would cost Rowan County an additional $2.7 million from the general fund, and Church has already proposed funding $6.9 million of the $14.17 million in requests.

Church also didn’t completely fund a 2 percent salary increase for all Rowan-Salisbury School System staff. A total of $2.4 million is needed for an across-the-board raise. Including other operating expenditures, the system requested an increase of $3.82 million. Church’s proposed budget only adds $1.7 million, which includes money from a newly implemented sales tax on services.

If the budget is approved as is, school system administrators wouldn’t be required to use the $1.7 million just for raises. However, Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said the increase would pay for a 1 percent pay boost, which would require $1.2 million.

Items that Church funded in his proposed budget include: a new roof at a building used by the Health Department and Department of Social Services, a new roof at the Rowan County Courthouse and jail, equipment for an Emergency Medical Services station in Rockwell and a reduction in the length of shifts for EMS employees.

Ultimately, Rowan County commissioners will have final authority over whether to pay for unfunded projects — requiring funds to either be shifted from another project or a tax increase. The first public discussion about Rowan County’s budget will occur June 6 at noon, when commissioners are scheduled to have a work session.

County commissioners Chairman Greg Edds hinted that its unlikely commissioners would vote to increase taxes to pay for some unfunded projects.

“In our opinion, the tax rate is too high as it is,” Edds said, noting that some surrounding counties have lower tax rates than Rowan. “What we’re trying to do is hold the line and boost tax revenue.”

Aside from boosting tax revenue or raising taxes, Edds said the county’s only options to pay for unfunded projects would be to cut other departments.

When summarizing his budget in a proposal to county commissioners, Church said funding all projects requested by county departments would require a tax increase of 12.36 cents per $100 in property valuation. As a result, Rowan County would have the 23rd highest tax rate in North Carolina. Instead, Church has proposed Rowan’s tax rate remain at 66.25 cents per $100, the 54th highest in the state.

“In general, a budget is a planning document that takes into account what the needs are and what has to be done immediately, but also what can wait or what doesn’t have to be done at all,” Church said when asked about his budget proposal. “Right now, the important thing in the budget is trying to take care of the most immediate and critical capital needs, such as a roof over the courthouse and the Health Department.”

Other roofing projects that were left out of the budget include a county building at 402 N. Main St., which is leaking and outdated. It’s estimated to cost $262,000 in a budget request. A separate budget request would have replaced the roof at Rowan County’s agriculture building on Old Concord Road at a cost of $25,973.

Another notable exclusion from Church’s budget is a new Sheriff’s Office satellite location in Landis. A budget request states the current satellite location sees long lines for handgun permits, a lack of required filing space and a lack of adequate bathroom facilities. In order to obtain a larger facility, the Sheriff’s Office estimates it would need $300,000.

In a budget request, the sheriff’s office says concealed weapon permit appointments are already beginning to pile up.

“The demand for concealed weapon permits, which is an involved process, has continued to mushroom,” the budget request states. “Currently, appointments are being made for the month of June, even though it is only March.”

Walk-in traffic for handgun permits has led to standing-room-only crowds, and lines that extend out of the building, the budget request states. There’s no more space available for files that are required to be kept by every officer.

In budget requests, the Rowan County Board of Elections asks for 46 new vote tabulators at a total cost of $255,655. Church said it’s a regular occurrence to see requests for new voting machines. He said Rowan’s current voting tabulation machines are in good shape.

Various county departments have also requested new positions or promotions, but nearly all were denied. Church has only recommended shifting Emergency Medical Services employees from 24 hours to 12 hours and hiring one assistant naturalist in the county’s nearly formed Animal Services Department. He touted the change from 24- to 12-hour shift change as significant.

“I think it’s going to result in a big difference in emergency services, an overall increased level of services,” Church said.

He noted that Rowan County has also paid $1.5 million to $2 million for an increase that resulted from a compensation study.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.