Hyde County news

Hyde County seeks input on proposed budget

Hyde County Government Center, 30 Oyster Creek Rd., Swan Quarter.

Budget workshop scheduled for all day Monday;
budget hearing 6 p.m. June 3;
final adoption 6 p.m. June 24

By Connie Leinbach

The Hyde County commissioners want residents to weigh in on the 2019-2020 proposed spending budget.

The document, prepared by Hyde County Manager Kris Noble, is on the Hyde County website along with Noble’s budget message that she gave May 6 at the commissioners’ monthly meeting.

The commissioners also will hold an all-day budget workshop Monday (May 13) starting at 10 a.m. where the commissioners go through each department’s spending request.

They will conduct the workshop in the Hyde County services building in Swan Quarter and it can be seen on Ocracoke via teleconferencing in the Community Center. The public is welcome to attend but will not be allowed to comment.

However, all are welcome to make comments at the budget hearing at 6 p.m. June 3 or to send comments via email up until June 24 when a special meeting will be held at 6 p.m. to adopt the budget.

This schedule differs from past years when the public was allowed to weigh in on the budget only one hour before the commissioners voted on it.

“You can’t incorporate comments into the budget if the public only has one hour before actual adoption to weigh in,” said Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s commissioner, in a few meetings this winter.

“The budget is policy I urge everyone to review the budget and make comments.”

Noble presented a budget of over $16 million, depending on the general fund appropriation the county commissioners decide on.

In her budget message, Noble said the county is in good financial health but that trends still show revenue going down, largely due to lower property values and a low tax collection rate.

“Our tax collection rate has continued to decrease to a position that has cut our available revenues to balance the budget by over $500,000,” she said. “The strain on our ad valorem revenues and our desire to maintain current services has made for very conservative budgets over the last several years and this upcoming year represents even more conservative budget decisions.”

Help may be around the corner since the county just launched a new, online tax collection program.

“We’re already seeing great improvement with this system,” she said in a later interview. The tax collection rate now is 93.6% and Noble hopes it will increase with the new system, which allows online and credit card payments. Her goal is for a 98% collection rate by 2024.

“That increase in tax collection rate with no change in appraised values or tax rate would have meant an increase in over $289,000 in available revenues this year alone,” she said.

According to the budget document, $6,929,528 is expected to be collected in tax revenues this fiscal year.

The rest of the income, in addition to a draw from the general fund, comes from various amounts from permits, licenses and fees; fines and forfeitures; sales tax ($1.7 million); reimbursements from the state for social services ($1.3 million) and health services ($1.083 million); various grants; the water department ($1.6 million); Ocracoke Occupancy Tax ($50,000 since the county may take 10% of the total collections for administration); and interest.

“Hyde County has a revenue issue, not necessarily an expense issue,” she said, yet noting that several increases in expenditures outside of the county’s internal control are unavoidable. Some of these are an increase of 8% in employee health care, changes in Medicaid regulations and the increased expense of offering foster care services that have resulted in large increases in the Department of Social Services’ budget. The election office budget will increase by 62% due to additional mandates from the state and the special election needed to replace Congressman Walter Jones, who died in February.

In Noble’s Plan A, which she favors with a $1.5 million transfer from the general fund (sometimes called the fund balance), expenses would total $16.7 million, which includes cuts that would not affect government services or staffing.

A general fund is a contingency the state mandates all counties must have. North Carolina statute says counties must maintain fund balances of a minimum of 8% of the expense budget.

In her Plan B, with a $1.1 million general fund transfer, more significant cuts would “affect our staffing and support to outside agencies but will not cut nonessential services completely.”

Both plans are considerably less than what the department heads had requested, she said.

Either plan is doable, said Corrinne Gibbs, finance officer, because the general fund is at $5.809 million, or 36.75% of the expense budget.

So, reducing the $5.809 million by $1.5 million would still keep Hyde well within the legal parameters, Gibbs said.

“We want to keep the fund balance at around 30% because of hurricanes,” Noble said.

Comments on the budget can be emailed to Rosemary Johnson at rjohnson@hydecountync.gov.

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