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County Commissioners approve 2017-18 budget; tax rate remains unchanged

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — With a few tweaks, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday unanimously passed a 2017-18 budget that keeps the tax rate flat and spends about $149.3 million.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, slightly increases the amount allocated to public schools and allocates money for capital improvements at county buildings. It provides a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for county staff and commissioners, money to start working on a library in western Rowan County, and salary supplements for principals, assistant principals and teachers.

The budget is balanced and uses more than $9 million from the fund balance — partially a savings account.

The tax rate will remain 66.25 cents per $100 in valuation. Meanwhile, property tax revenue is projected to rise by 2.32 percent, and sales tax revenue is projected to increase by 6.3 percent.

“I’m glad that we’re still able to hold the tax rate down,” said commissioners Chairman Greg Edds. “Our concern is tax revenue and continuing to build those.”

Edds said Rowan County will finish many of the necessary capital improvements in the new budget. Those include air conditioning for the downtown complex that includes the courthouse and jail and a roof for the county office building at 402 N. Main St. The county also will install a video system in the courthouse for evidence presentation and inmate appearances.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene called the budget “an excellent budget for Rowan County.”

“We’re seeing that Rowan County is growing and that Rowan County, I think, is on the precipice of an economic growth and possibly a population growth with that,” Greene said.

Commissioners approved the budget for the general fund and most other funds during a 6 p.m. meeting. Including all funds, Rowan County will spend about $171.5 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to budget projections.

Commissioners on Monday delayed approving tax rates for volunteer fire departments because of questions about how a planned Duke Energy solar farm would affect tax revenue in the Woodleaf fire district.

Earlier in the day, the commissioners held a work session in which several changes were made in the proposed budget. The changes raised spending by $111,953 over what was originally proposed.

The bulk of the work session discussion focused on education. But no education-related changes were made to the budget.

Commissioner Mike Caskey asked the board to consider increasing funding for capital needs by $3 million.

Caskey proposed three options: borrowing the $3 million, funding the $3 million without a loan or selecting individual projects to add to the budget.

After a brief debate between Caskey and Commissioner Craig Pierce, the board decided to hold meetings of a joint planning committee, which includes school system and county officials, to decide on immediate needs.

These are some of the change and addition made to the budget Monday:

• The commissioners voted to shift County Attorney Jay Dees from a contract position to a full-time, staff position

County Manager Aaron Church said the change would benefit the county and Dees and should not result in any cost increases, Church and Dees said.

The total salary and benefits for Dees will be about $177,000. Of that amount, about $140,000 will be salary.

Commissioners and Church said Dees in recent months has worked an increased number of hours as a contract employee. Monday’s change would save the county money when compared to the current arrangement, Edds said.

Although he will be a full-time county employee, Dees said he will maintain private clients through his law firm, Ketner and Dees.

Briefly, commissioners also discussed renovating office space in the county administration building for Dees. Pierce proposed renovating the human resources office to provide space for Dees.

• Commissioners voted to add a deputy social services director to the new budget.

Unlike the county attorney reclassification, the deputy social services director would add costs to the budget.

Commissioner Judy Klusman, who sits on the social services board, presented the idea during the work session. Klusman said current Social Services Director Donna Fayko is nearing retirement. Klusman said Fayko and section managers at the Department of Social Services agree that there’s not an internal candidate who could take over the agency if Fayko retires.

Klusman said the salary of the deputy director would be paid for with mostly federal funds. The estimated cost to the county will be $40,000, Church said. The total amount of salary and benefits is $112,000.

Church said the deputy director position made the first few editions of the 2017-18 budget, but he cut the position before the final version he presented to the commissioners.

• Commissioners voted to spend $5,000 for a law enforcement memorial.

Caskey said he believes the Sheriff’s Office already has land that can be used for the memorial. He said the county also has a memorial stone that could be used.

Caskey said the cost of the memorial could vary, but $5,000 would help get it started.

• Commissioners voted to reallocate $38,000 set to be used for a dog park at Sloan Park.

Pierce said dog parks would be better in more urban areas than in Sloan Park. Instead of a dog park, the money will be split between a new maintenance person at the park and finishing building renovations at Ellis Park.

• Commissioners voted to allocate $2,400 and $2,500 to Missions of Mercy and Saving Grace Farm, respectively.

Missions of Mercy will hold a dental clinic in September. Klusman said the $2,400 will pay for rent at West End Plaza.

The Saving Grace Farm money will pay for scholarships.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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