By Connie Leinbach
For the fourth year in a row, Hyde County Manager Bill Rich has proposed a budget with no tax increase.
The budget of more than $12.5 million was passed at the June 6 county commissioners meeting at 6 p.m.
Rich explained that the total expenditures are $15,250,616, but $2,694,936 are state- and federally-mandated expenses for the Departments of Social Services and Health that the county has no control over.
The county’s overall tax base valuation has “dropped tremendously this year,” Rich said. “(The tax valuation) dropped by $56 million to below a billion dollars for the first time ever.”
That equals about $333,000 the county is not collecting in taxes. Rich also noted that when residents turn 65, they can apply for a discount on their property taxes, which further reduces the total collected.
Another budget challenge is that the county experiences only a 94.67 percent collection rate on its property taxes, which is the fifth worse in the state. The state average tax collection rate is 98 percent. That translates to $325,000 in delinquent taxes, Rich said.
Rich has no plans to raise the tax rate, which is $.64 percent per dollar property valuation. To balance the budget, Rich “borrows” on paper from the fund balance, which is a surplus the state mandates all counties must have.
While the state mandates an 8 percent fund balance of the total revenues, Hyde’s fund balance is at 36 percent. Among the service changes, Rich proposes to save $100,000 a year through the creation of an Information Technology department.
Right now, the county spends about $250,000 for several IT contracts, he said. None are consistent, nor do they talk to each other. Along with this, the county expects to purchase Quickbooks for its departments and maintain a cloud-based storage system.
Rich’s budget calls for the creation of “non-emergent ambulatory services to our EMS.” “We already have all the equipment to do this,” he said. “We will need only two employees. This pays for itself plus makes the county an additional $100,000.”
Fiber/broadband internet service for the Ocracoke Community Center will be done by the end of July.
The commissioners in May voted to consolidate 911 service with Dare County, which Rich said will yield a $150,000 savings per for 20 years.
He projects total sales tax collection to be $1.3 million, up from $1.2 million this year. As for the Hyde County School District, the county will give them $1,578,000, which is “the most that the schools have ever gotten,” Rich said.
Last year the County funded $1.47 million and the year before that $1.137 million. This money will fund $222,000 in teaching positions, $48,000 for a Pre-K assistant for Ocracoke (first-ever county funded) and $25,000.00 towards athletics, of which $10,000 will help maintain Ocracoke’s ballfield.
While all counties in North Carolina are mandated to give a certain percentage of their budgets to their school districts, that money does not have to go to salaries.
“We’re one of the few counties in the state that funds any teaching positions at all,” Rich said. “The county’s job is to fund infrastructure.”