Amid COVID-19 pandemic, county staff say budget is as expected
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — While the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and staff feel confident the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget won’t be significantly impacted by COVID-19, questions still remain on the impact to the 2020-21 budget, which will be proposed in a few months.
Finance reports from the 2019-2020 fiscal year show that revenue and expenditures are where the county “would expect” at this time of year, said Assistant County Manager and Finance Director Leslie Heidrick during the commissioners’ virtual meeting last week.
As of February, Rowan County has collected approximately $83.3 million in property tax, which represents about 98% of what was budgeted. The collected property tax for this year so far is more than the collection from the previous three fiscal years at this same time. In February 2019, the collection was approximately $75.7 million.
As of December, the county had collected approximately $14.1 million in annual cumulative sales tax, which comprises 54% of what was budgeted.
With all revenue combined, as of March, the county has collected approximately $121.9 million. That’s 80% of what was budgeted. Though fairly similar to revenue collection as of March in the previous fiscal years, Heidrick said, “We’re a little ahead of where we were the last three years.”
In March 2019, the county had collected $113.2 million in revenue.
Heidrick said during the meeting that she doesn’t believe the March revenue was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county has spent approximately $106.7 million in expenditures as of March, which is 65% of the overall fiscal year budget. Though still within range of the previous three years, Heidrick said, the county has spent slightly more than prior years. Expenditures cost was $102.9 million in March 2019 for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
“We’re right in the range of where I would expect revenue and expenditures to be at this time of year,” she said.
Overall, the county should expect to spend 93-94% of the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, “which is typical for Rowan County government,” Heidrick said, adding that the county should meet its budget without needing additional funds.
And without a significant hit from COVID-19, revenue collections should exceed the expenditures. But there’s still a chance because the total economic impact related to COVID-19 is yet to be determined.
James Meacham, director of the county tourism development authority, said he will have a better sense in the coming days of the overall impact of COVID-19 on sales tax. But Meacham predicted a double-digit impact on the hospitality sector for the first quarter of the year. The hospitality sector is a big driver of sales tax, he said.
Meacham added that the number of businesses unable to operate during the time make forecasting financial impacts even trickier. But the tourism authority, the Economic Development Commission and Chamber of Commerce have collaborated to study and mitigate the county’s financial impact.
During the virtual meeting last week, Commissioner Mike Caskey asked if Heidrick believed people will spend a lot of money when the stay-at-home restrictions for COVID-19 are lifted. Heidrick answered it’s more likely that it will take time for people who haven’t been earning money during the pandemic. Additionally, a sales tax depression is still not ruled out.
Some economists, including North Carolina State University’s Michael Walden, have said consumer fear drives economic recovery. While “people eventually will go back to restaurants and people eventually will go on vacation,” Walden predicts it will take at least a year to get back to how the economy was before the virus.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.
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