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Rowan County budget increases funding for education, public safety

By Andie Foley
andie.foley@salisburypost.com

Rowan County Manager Aaron Church said that the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget included a set of central themes.

In the executive summary of the proposal presented to the Board of Commissioners earlier this month, Church said these themes were “increased funding for public education and public safety and maintaining our current level of services.”

Funding increases bring the recommended general operating budget to roughly $152 million, a 1.8 percent increase from the prior year.

The increase will require no changes in the county’s tax rate, said Church.

Helping to offset the increase, projected revenues in the budget indicate a 1.98 percent increase in property tax revenues and a sales tax revenue increase of 5.1 percent.

Property taxes are calculated on a projected $12.5 billion tax base for 2019, a 1.96 increase from 2018.

Projected sales tax revenues do not include expected revenues from the recent expanded tax base, said Church.

Commissioners must adopt a final budget by July 1, as the fiscal year runs from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

Expanding public education

As county officials moved into the budget planning process, some $194 million in expenditure requests were received, a $44 million or 91.5 percent increase from the 2018 fiscal year.

Just over $40 million of this was requested from county school systems: nearly $2 million more from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, $10 million from Rowan-Salisbury Schools and $28 million more from Kannapolis City Schools.

The increase would have required a 33.2-cent property tax increase, said Church.

In the proposed budget, the school system would instead be awarded $1.4 million, a 3.2 percent increase year over year.

The appropriation should allow for an increase in teacher and support staff supplements, said the county manager.

“That’s something we’re proud of,” he said. “Through this budget, the Board of Education should be able to do that.”

Expanding public safety

Church said that, throughout this year’s budget process, department directors and elected officials requested 23 new full-time positions. Of these, five would be approved in the proposed budget.

Three of these were awarded to the Rowan County Sherriff’s office: for a deputy at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and two new detention center lieutenants.

The college requested the Rowan-Cabarrus deputy, and the county will be reimbursed for the cost of the position.

The two lieutenants will improve supervision and experience at the Detention Annex, as currently two lieutenants are split between the facility and the downtown office.

The 2019 budget also includes stipends for specialty or skilled assignments for deputies: special response team, K-9 handlers and hostage negotiators will be eligible for a $50 stipend each pay period.

Finally, the budget includes a placeholder of $750,000, a number that the board may use to fund the outcome of an ongoing law enforcement pay study, approved earlier this year.

Other notable budget items

In talks with the Post, Church said the most notable item on the budget were one-time capital items totaling $1.7 million.

These are the West Branch Library, a new EMS base station in Cleveland and new voting machines for the Board of Elections.

He also highlighted another new county employee — a building inspections permit assistant — and a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment pay increase for every county employee and official.

The permit assistant is a sign of the improving economy, he said, as new building permits have doubled in the last four years. New commercial permits are at their highest level since 2009, he said.

The cost-of-living increase is just over $1 million for countywide staff: seasonal, part-time, temporary, elected and appointed.

Next steps

The Board of Commissioners will hold a budget work session at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 4.

A regular board meeting at 3 p.m. will follow the session, followed by a recess until 6 p.m.

At 6 p.m., commissioners will reconvene and conduct a public hearing regarding the proposed budget.

A period of public comment will be allowed with the following criteria:

  • The length of comment for each speaker will be limited to 3 minutes to address the Board.
  • The comments shall be restricted to the subject of the hearing as advertised.
  • All speakers should address the Board in a civil and courteous manner.

Church said he some dialogue is usual during these sessions, but state mandates generally keep the budget approval process moving fluidly.

“When you spend that much time doing it, it just comes together. It’s not something you can do in a day or a week or a month. It takes a long time,” he said. “… The commissioners are really engaged. They review it and ask questions and there will be more questions at the meeting.”

If commissioners do not approve the budget by July 1, an interim budget will need to be adopted.

This is not something desirable, said Church.

But he’s yet to experience the need to use such.

“I try to take their input and put together the best document possible,” he said.

This document, he noted, could be seen as a to-do list for the county.

“A budget is more of a planning document. It’s planning what we’re going to do over the next year,” said Church. “It doesn’t mean that because something wasn’t included this year it can’t be done years down the road.”

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