WINDSOR - “There is some good news and some not so good news.”

This was Bertie County Manager Juan Vaughan’s opening remark during his presentation of the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Proposed Budget to the Bertie County Commissioners.

“The good news is the Ad Valorem tax rate will remain the same. Bertie County citizens will not see an increase to their tax rate,” said Vaughan.

The current Ad Valorem tax rate for the county is 86.5 cents per $100.

According to Vaughan, if all budget requests had been approved there would have been a 33-cent tax increase would have been required with no use of fund balance reserves.

“In accordance with North Carolina General Statutes, I respectfully submit for review and consideration the recommended Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget for Bertie County, as required by the North Carolina Local Government and Budget Fiscal Control Act,” he continued.

The budget development process began with the distribution of the budget calendar, preparation forms and instructions to all county departments, groups and agencies that receive funding from Bertie County.

The groups and agencies that are part of the process include each department of Bertie County Government, Bertie County Schools, Martin Community College, Roanoke Chowan Community College and each of the county’s fire departments.

The proposed funding for the General Fund for fiscal year 2021-2022 is $24,146,930. This is a decrease of $608,605 or 2.5 percent below the original budget ordinance for the current year of $24,755,534.

“The proposed General Fund budget does not include a fund balance appropriation nor an increase in the Ad Valorem tax rate. Some capital requests have been recommended in the proposed budget, and additional capital requests are proposed with funding from state and local fiscal recovery funds provided through the American Rescue Plan,” said Vaughan.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, the appropriated fund balance for the original budget was $1,271,247, but the final budget included an appropriated fund balance of $1,857,025.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, the appropriated fund balance for the original budget was $1,592,304, and the final budget included an appropriated fund balance of $2,022,737.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, the appropriated fund balance for the original budget was $1,902,304, and the final budget included an appropriated fund balance of $2,373,361.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, the appropriated fund balance for the original budget was $1,729,650, and the final budget included an appropriated fund balance of $1,903,050

“For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, there was no appropriation of fund balance in the original budget. We project the final budget to include funds to add to the fund balance,” said Vaughan.

The North Carolina Local Government Commission advises local governments to maintain the fund balance available for appropriation at eight percent or higher of total expenditures.

According to Vaughan, Bertie County adopted a minimum fund balance policy for the General Fund. This instructs management to maintain a fund balance available for appropriation of 10 percent of higher of total expenditures.

As a result of appropriating fund balance to balance the budget for a number of years, in addition to not receiving timely reimbursement from a number of sources for capital projects, Bertie County’s fund balance available for appropriation as calculated by the North Carolina Local Government Commission has fallen below the eight percent and 10 percent of the General Fund expenditures as recommended by the LGC and the Bertie County Board of Commissioners respectively.

According to Vaughan, it continues to be challenging yet critical to continue to make reductions in the county department budgets in efforts of reducing expenditures to alleviate the use of fund balance.

“The proposed budget plan incorporates a modest cost of living adjustment of one percent across the board. Upon the approval of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, this across the board adjustment will be effective July 1. The net cost to the General Fund is approximately $65,000.” he continued.

Some capital and non-capital requests are scheduled to be funded in the proposed budget plan, and include a storage building for the new N.C. Cooperative Extension Office and a passport camera system for the Register of Deeds office.

Numerous capital expenditures in the emergency services, sheriff and information technology departments are proposed with the use of the state and local fiscal Recovery Funds through the American Rescue Plan.

Bertie County has received $1,840,116 through Fiscal Recovery Funds, which Congress provided in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The economic impact is given through four categories of eligible uses include: to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, to respond to workers performing essential work during COVID-19 by performing premium pay to eligible workers, for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction of revenue due to COVID-19 relative to revenues collected in the most recent fiscal year and to make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

According to Vaughan, the proposed special appropriations are similar to the appropriations that have been made to vital programs, regional agencies and nonprofit organizations in previous years.

“The total allocation recommended to special appropriations is $6,302,942. Most of the special appropriations are annual operating support for Bertie County Schools, community colleges and the regional jail,” he added.

The proposed budget plan includes the usual General Fund appropriation of $30,000 to each of the 12 fire departments.

“In the upcoming fiscal year, the board of commissioners plans to look further into the alternative funding options suggested in the fire study recently conducted,” Vaughan continued.

To continue to reduce expenditures, several positions continued to not be funded in departments with numerous vacancies. The proposed budget does not include funding for five deputy positions in the sheriff’s department that were frozen during the current fiscal year.

There are five positions in the non-emergency transport department that are not necessary for the call volume at this time, and these positions have not been included in the budget.

According to Vaughan, the additional building inspector previously included will remain in the budget to increase the county’s capacity to meet the enforcement requirements of the new N.C. Fire Prevention Codes.

Additionally, a part-time position for the Register of Deeds’ office has been added to provide passports for the first time in the county and surrounding counties.

Additional capital projects include voting equipment for the Bertie County Board of Elections, new tax software and a new Bertie County Animal Shelter.

“All of the county employees contributed to the fiscal plan in some way. I would like to thank all of the employees for their assistance, to the department heads for their leadership and sacrifices made, and to Finance Director William Roberson and Assistant County Manager David Scarborough for the fiscal acumen and technical support,” Vaughan closed.

“It is like this. If you keep dipping and dipping into your checking account, it is going to run out. This is kind of what happened. Now we are working to build it back up,” said Bertie County Commission Chair Tammy Lee.

“I am so pleased to see a budget presentation that does not use the fund balance. The last eight years have been a draw on the fund balance. This is a great start,” Commissioner Ron Wesson continued.

Commissioner Ron Roberson stated, “I concur that we should dig deep to give the county employees more than a one percent increase.”

The Bertie County Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing for the fiscal year 2021-2022 proposed budget at 6 p.m. Monday, June 14 in the Commissioners’ Room inside the Bertie County Government Building, 106 Dundee St. in Windsor or via Zoom.

Leslie Beachboard can be reached at lbeachboard@ncweeklies.com.

Thadd White is Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance and can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.