County opens budget discussions

May. 09, 2013 @ 06:04 AM

Rutherford County Commissioners had their first opportunity to dive into the 2013-14 proposed county budget during a work session Wednesday.

Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen indicated the same policy and procedure for budget meetings, amendments and other proposals as last year. Commissioners agreed to utilize a straw poll method for potential budget amendments meaning if three commissioners "nod their head" regarding a budget amendment proposal, county staff will draft that amendment and have it ready prior to the budget approval in June.

"We know we will have technical amendments and those will be presented during the budget adoption," Classen said. "We will get things like our tax numbers and other figures that will require technical amendments."

During his budget statement Monday, Classen said there is no budgeted tax increases while the overall county budget will increase by just over $3 million from last year.

A large portion of the budget increase is due to business incentives the county is paying to new business developers.

"We are going to go from a total of $2.4 million to $5.3 million in incentives and it will be wash-in, wash-out," Classen said. "But, we are expecting a $500,000 gap in collections. There is nothing wrong with the incentives but the problem is with the overall system on the state level."

One large project expected to affect county tax rolls in the next fiscal year will be the Horsehead Corporation facility in the southern end of the county. Commissioners asked about the incentives for Horsehead compared to their expected property taxes due.

"The incentive agreement is for 100 percent in the first year," Classen said. "They are only eligible based on their entire tax payment. If they pay $100,000, they are only eligible for $100,000 in grants but they have to pay their taxes first."

Horsehead is eligible for some state tax breaks because they are classified as a "recycler." Classen said those breaks do not impact county collections.

With regards to expenses, one department that may feel a pinch for the next year is the Rutherford-Polk-McDowell Health Department. Classen said that all three counties agreed to help fund the $1 million of needed revenue. However, that will come at a cost.

"They were sliding to a nearly zero-fund balance and it was happening rather quickly," Classen said. "We developed a plan where the counties will come up with a third of the revenue they need and the health department will build up a third and cuts will make up a third."

That one-third for Rutherford County equates to $170,000 for the next year.

Allocations for the county rescue squads were moved to the EMS budget and remained flat at $204,000.

Classen added a line item for Community Project Grants in the amount of $30,000.

"If someone came to us and wanted to put up a sign welcoming people to the area, we would tell them to raise half of the money and apply for a grant for the other half," Classen said. "This would spur community involvement."

He said the money could not be used for salaries and will only be available to unincorporated areas of the county.

Classen said the county kept contributions to the Department of Social Services (DSS) flat at $3.89 million from the county's general fund.

"The Director has made some good arguments regarding an increase because of the implementation of the NC FAST program," Classen said. "I have told him we will sit down and determine if there is anything we can carry over."

Commissioners will meet with the Rutherford County Schools' Board of Education at 12 p.m. on May 13 at Rutherfordton Elementary and the ICC Board of Trustees on May 20.