By Connie Leinbach
Hyde County manager Bill Rich has proposed a lower county budget for next year that still includes restoring art instruction for Mattamuskeet and Ocracoke schools.
The budget is scheduled to be approved at the June 1 meeting in the Hyde County Government Center multi-use room and the Ocracoke School Commons room using electronic conferencing equipment.
Rich’s proposed balanced budget expenses are $15.95 million, which is lower than last year’s budget of $16.77 million.
The county helps fund the schools in what is called a local match, and although the school district asked for a higher amount of $1.428 million for next year, Rich is excited about their proposal.
“Their prior increase requests were for janitorial and legal fees,” he said “This request is smart. It gives us ownership and includes exciting stuff to see.”
Last year, the school’s local budget eliminated art instruction and did not include a allocation of $10,000 for Ocracoke Community Park ball field, both of which numerous island residents commented on in meetings in the fall and winter.
Hyde County schools have an overall budget of about $11 million, which includes the yearly local match from Hyde County. The rest of their budget comes from the state.
The school district’s local request is $139,800 higher than last year and higher than the 2009 appropriation of $1.424 million, which was the highest in the last six years.
At a budget workshop meeting May 19, no commissioners voiced opposition to the school’s budget request.
In addition, Rich said the fund balance is now 65 percent better than what it was when he started in March 2013.
The state requires all counties to have a fund balance, which is a kind of rainy day fund.
“If your fund balance is under 8 percent of the total budget, then the state comes in and takes you over,” Rich said.
The county’s fund balance at the end of 2014 was $4.29 million, which was 37.35 percent. This year Rich is hoping to raise the fund balance to $4.5 million.
Prior to his becoming county manager, the fund balance was in a severe debt, he said. Money added to the fund balance is like banking money, he said.
“We’ve been more aggressive in property tax collection,” Rich said, noting that tax collection has improved to a 94.4 percent rate. “I know I can get that to 97 percent. Every percent equals $100,000 in revenue.”
Revenues also have risen in sales and occupancy taxes, he said.
Rich also realized more savings in the county budget by changing the health insurance provider for the 115 county employees who are insured.