Pasquotank not expecting tax hike

Sparty Hammett Pasquotank Manager

By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pasquotank County officials are still early in their budget planning for next year, but are hoping to bring in enough revenue to pay for both employee raises and a bump in health insurance costs — all without seeking an increase in the property tax rate.

In an interview Friday, County Manager Sparty Hammett and Finance Officer Sheri Small provided an update on the county's budget planning for 2018-19.

Thus far, Hammett and Small are not planning to seek a tax increase or to use any of the county's general fund balance to cover next year’s county budget. Pasquotank ended its last budget year with about $8.45 million free to spend, and commissioners agreed to tap about $557,000 of that to provide additional funding for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools.

ECPPS is the big unknown in Pasquotank's budget, as the school district typically represents about a fourth of the county’s $45-million-plus general fund budget.

Hammett said ECPPS officials haven’t yet provided the county with a funding request. The ECPPS Board of Education is set to consider a staff request of $11.8 million for operating funds, about a $700,000 increase from what the county provided this year. School officials are also proposing about $4 million in capital projects for next year.

Hammett and Small also said the county is planning to include raises of at least $500 for each employee — a general fund budget impact of about $160,000 — and cover a 5-percent increase in employee health insurance costs. That insurance increase is notably smaller than the increase the city of Elizabeth City is facing; Pasquotank and the city are covered by different insurers.

Hammett and Small also said Pasquotank still doesn't have clear projections for sales tax and property tax revenues, so it's unclear how much additional money, if any, the county will have to work with this year.

With so many budget unknowns, Hammett, Small and county commissioners focused on reviewing easier parts of the county's budget last week.

In addition to a roughly $2.2 million request from College of The Albemarle — about the same as last year — the officials reviewed more than $9 million in spending requests, including the county's annual debt payments and basic services such as the library and the tax, planning, finance and emergency services departments.

Commissioners also briefly discussed a funding request from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is asking for $130,000, an $8,000 increase, toward the cost of operating its animal shelter on Enterprise Drive. The shelter accepts dogs and cats turned in by Pasquotank's Animal Control officers.

Hammett and Small proposed denying the SPCA’s request. Small noted the SPCA is expecting a slight operating deficit next year, but still has roughly $80,000 in fund balance.

Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt encouraged fellow commissioners to consider the SPCA’s request, but they made no decisions last week.

Pasquotank must have its 2018-19 budget in place before July 1, which is when the new fiscal year starts.