County manager’s budget projects higher revenues, $55 million in capital funding for RSS

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 27, 2021

SALISBURY — County Manager Aaron Church on Wednesday presented commissioners with a proposed 2021-22 budget that projects higher revenues and expenditures as well as money that could be used for a combined Knox-Overton K-8 school.

While Church said the debt could be used for any capital project, the $55 million in new debt for the Rowan-Salisbury School System is enough to cover initial estimates provided for the long-planned Knox-Overton K-8. The RSS Board of Education approved moving ahead to the design phase of the project in January 2020, but the project was delayed after commissioners froze capital projects due to the pandemic.

The county’s proposed budget spends $174.46 million, which is a $20.94 million increase from the fiscal year 2020-21 budget. Like many county and city managers, Church crafted a more conservative budget last year due to uncertainty about how the COVID-19 pandemic pandemic would impact revenues.

Of the $20.94 million increase, about $7 million will be provided by COVID-19 funding from the federal government and $4.94 million in revenue will be provided from sales tax proceeds.

The county expected a plunge in its sales tax revenue last year due to the pandemic, but instead saw record numbers. In the 2021-22 fiscal year, which starts July 1, Church is projecting sales tax revenue to total $29.67 million, which would make up 17% of the county’s total revenue and represent a $1.14 million increase from the actual sales tax revenue received this year. 

While Church is expecting an increase in county revenues, he’s also anticipating inflation. 

“There’s a lot of revenue but there’s also a lot of expense,” Church said. “The cost of things are going up. The budget plans for inflation.”

In his executive summary of the budget, Church cited inflation reaching historic levels of more than 14% in 1980 as a caution for what may come this year. He’s anticipating a 100% increase in the cost of gasoline for county vehicles, which would equate to an estimated $680,798.

“I’ll say it’s the first time I’ve ever doubled the cost of fuel,” Church said. “Doubling fuel itself, would be, if we didn’t have the revenue, would be a half of a penny on the tax rate.”

Instead, Church’s recommended tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year will remain the same at 65.75 cents per $100 in valuation. The budget projects a tax base of $13.91 billion, including real property taxes, personal property taxes and vehicle taxes. That’s a slight, 1.09% increase from last year’s $13.76 billion tax base.

In the proposed budget, the county will increase money appropriated from the fund balance, which partially functions as a savings account. Church is recommending using $12.55 million, which is $5.78 million more than last year’s approved fund balance appropriation of $6.77 million. However, the money used from the fund balance is only an 8.8% increase from the $11.53 million appropriated in fiscal year 2019-2020.

The recommended budget includes $2.19 million in one-time capital expenditures, including $431,000 for the courthouse roof, $880,000 for heart monitors, $310,710 for sheriff’s office vehicles, $81,703 for Tasers, $150,000 for body scanners, $307,590 for the detention center and $36,815 for detention center kitchen equipment.

Excluding school capital, the budget will have the county take on $38 million in total debt to be paid off at an annual cost of $3.6 million. An airport hangar expansion at the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport composes $12.5 million of the additional debt. West End Plaza renovations account for $15 million — the base cost of a presented to commissioners before the pandemic for an agricultural center — and radio infrastructure and new radios account for $10.5 million.

The proposed budget features 37 new positions across county departments at a total cost of $2.3 million. Included in the new positions are four social workers and one supervisor position requested by the Department of Social Services to bolster its Child Protective Services division, which has seen several departures in recent months. 

The budget calls for approving five temporary, full-time positions totaling $348,874. One is a financial analyst. Four are community paramedic positions. The budget does recommend eliminating the county’s risk manager position in the amount of $85,230.

In addition to 37 new positions, the budget calls for 37 vehicle purchases totaling $2.39 million, including 20 vehicles for the Rowan County Sheriff’s office, 10 for Rowan Transit and four for Emergency Management Services.

For Rowan County schools, the budget calls for per-pupil funding for current operating expenses to remain the same at an estimated $1,949.51. Rowan-Salisbury Schools is set to receive $35.49 million for operating expenses in addition to $854,731 for current capital expenses. Kannapolis City Schools will receive $2.52 million for operating expenses and $60,614 for capital expenses. Rowan charter schools will receive $1.91 million.

The budget does not include $55.19 million requested by Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to fund a bond referendum approved by voters in 2020 to expand programs and build a complex of new buildings. Church is recommending $1 million to assist the college with architect fees in anticipation of the project starting in fiscal year 2022-23. That’s when a tax increase of approximately 3.5 cents will be required. The $1 million will be paid back to the county with the general obligation bond proceeds.

Commissioners scheduled a public hearing regarding the proposed budget to be held at their meeting on June 7. The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. in the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Room on the second floor of the Rowan County Administration Building. Public comments will be limited to three minutes and must pertain to the budget.

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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