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County commissioners approve 2021-22 budget boosted by pandemic relief funding

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved the county’s 2021-22 fiscal year budget of about $171.46 million.

With projected increases in both revenues and expenditures and an infusion of funding provided by the federal government, the budget is a roughly $17.94-million increase from last year’s budget.

The budget projects $29.67 million in sales tax revenue, which represents a $1.14 million increase from the actual sales tax revenue received this year. Anticipating inflation, the county has also doubled the amount of money it will spend on fuel for county vehicles to roughly $680,798.

The tax rate will remain the same at 65.75 cents per $100 in valuation.

“Last year was an anomaly, so we spent way below our means last year,” Chairman Greg Edds said. “This year, we have all of this COVID-19 (American Rescue Plan) money running through our budget and it’s jacked up what our budget looks like. I just want to remind folks we’re a half cent lower on our taxes than we were in 2015, 2014. We’ve not gone up any. We’ve gone down. The good news is this community is prospering and we are bringing in significant amounts of new revenue.”

The county is expecting to receive $27 million over the course of two years from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan, which will be split into $13.5 million per year. The county will spend about $7 million of that money in the next fiscal year for a variety of purposes, including $2 million in bonuses for county employees, $1 million for a chemical booster station for the northeast water line and nearly $1 million in reimbursements and expenses for tourism.

The budget includes $55 million in new debt for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, which could be used to cover the initial estimates provided for the long-planned Knox-Overton K-8. 

The budget for per-pupil funding for Rowan-Salisbury Schools will 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. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College will receive $1 million to pay for architect fees needed to design a complex of new buildings, but the project is unlikely to start until fiscal year 2022-23 when a tax increase of approximately 3.5 cents will be required.

The budget passed by commissioners Monday was $3 million less than the budget proposed last month by County Manager Aaron Church. Instead of allocating $4 million from the American Rescue Plan to the Rowan-Salisbury School System for stormwater improvements, commissioners decided to only allocate $1 million after Church told them he wasn’t sure the county would need all $4 million to make the necessary upgrades.

The budget was also amended Monday night to include several last-minute additions and subtractions requested by commissioners as well as changes made by Church.

Edds added $60,000 for lobbying services for the county, which are not to exceed a cost of $5,000 per month. The Board of Commissioners discussed hiring a lobbying firm to advocate for county needs at the state and federal level last year, but no action was taken.

“Having folks that can help us on the federal level will be of significance for us,” Edds said. “I don’t want us to lose an opportunity here in the new future.”

At the request of Commissioner Mike Caskey, the board allocated $368,000 for the hiring of four deputies and equipment for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to form a “warrant squad.” Caskey also requested a part-time office assistant position for Veterans Services at a cost of $16,000.

Commissioner Judy Klusman added $52,000 in funding for an additional peer support specialist that will help the Health Department’s Post Overdose Response Team, which is working to respond to the opioid epidemic in Rowan County.

With the additions of the four deputy positions and peer specialist position, the approved budget provides funding for 15 permanent new positions in the county. Also included are four social workers and one supervisor position for the Department of Social Services, an accountant, a deputy register of deeds, a building inspector and two environmental health specialists. The budget recommends eliminating the county’s risk manager position in the amount of $85,230.

The budget also features $348,874 in funding for five part-time positions, including four community paramedics and a financial analyst who will solely work on American Rescue Plan funding.

Commissioner Craig Pierce requested an additional $12,000 be allocated for Meals on Wheels Rowan, a service that provides meals to homebound individuals.

Commissioners also voted to eliminate $5 pet fees charged to Rowan County residents, which will result in an $18,000 reduction in county revenue.

As a result of the changes made by commissioners and Church, the county will appropriate about $12.4 million from the general fund, which is approximately $100,500 less than what the proposed budget originally called for.

Commissioners approved an increase of the tax rates for seven fire districts. Atwell Township will go from 7.75 cents to 9.75 cents per $100 in valuation, Bostian Heights from 8.45 cents to 9 cents, Franklin Township from 7.16 cents to 9 cents, Locke from 9 cents to 9.75 cents, Millers Ferry from 8 cents to 8.75 cents, South Rowan from 8.55 cents to 9 cents and West Rowan from 7 cents to 9 cents.

Caskey, who said he attended public meetings about the proposed increases in six of the seven districts, said he was comfortable with the increases because they will go to good use.

“Majority of funds being requested are for personnel,” Caskey said. “(Fire Departments) are just not getting volunteers to come out.”

The 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.

Not including the school system, the budget will have the county take on $38 million in new debt to be paid off at an annual cost of $3.6 million. An airport hangar expansion at the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport comprises $12.5 million of the additional debt. West End Plaza renovations account for $15 million and radio infrastructure and new radios account for $10.5 million.

About $1.7 million will be transferred into a savings account for West End Plaza improvement, which will bring the money available in the account to roughly $6 million.

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