The Chowan County Commissioner unanimously approved the budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 – property taxes remain the same.

During a special meeting Monday, commissioners approved a budget of $15,760,859 so the county won’t have to raise property taxes.

During fiscal year 2019-2020, which ended Tuesday, June 30, the budget was $17,033,260 – so the new budget pretty much cut spending across the board.

The new budget keeps the property tax rate at $0.755 per $100 value on real and person property and motor vehicles listed as of Jan. 1, 2020. The tax rate is lower or comparable to rates in neighboring counties.

“As a Board, we felt raising property taxes now, while many of our families and businesses are dealing with the continuing fallout of the COVID pandemic would be heartless and tone deaf. Instead, we asked our departments to scrutinize their budget requests and try to, as much as possible, hold the line on expenses,” Commission Chairman Patti Kersey said. “Because of their efforts, which I am extremely proud, we were able to appropriate Fund Balance (Savings Account) where needed to maintain a quality level of services but still achieve our goal and policy of maintaining unrestricted funds at 25%. While this may sound like a large amount, it would only fund our county 3 months. So, we are erring on the side of caution.”

Commissioner Ellis Lawrence had hoped to provide raises to county employees, but with the economic uncertainty associated with COVID-19, he decided that this is not the right time. When FY 2021/22 rolls around, Lawrence suggested a tax increase would be necessary to pursue capital improvement projects and raise salaries.

Commission Vice Chairman Bob Kirby stressed the importance of “holding the line on taxes” during these stressful times when people may be laid-off and forced to make tough decisions.

"The Board of Commissioners held the line on property taxes for the fiscal year which begins on July 1, 2020," he said. "Overall, budgeting for a county is very similar to budgeting for a household. For a household, there are necessities like mortgage or rent and car payments as well as utilities, food, and basic clothing. For a county, these necessities are things like public safety (Sheriff, Fire, and EMS), schools and social services. Then there are the actual costs of County Government like administration, legal, tax collection, elections, etc."

Kirby said there are ever increasing and burdensome mandates from the State of North Carolina pressing on county finances.

"These unfunded state mandates are typically liberally sprinkled throughout the county budget - things like mandatory recycling, mandatory tire disposal fees, and a state mandate that a county can only collect taxes on 20% of the value of solar energy facility components, not to mention the ever increasing added utility costs associated with State Mandated Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS) which everyone is seeing on their electric power bill," he said. "In the end, there are those very few discretionary items -- think of luxuries -- like parks, recreational facilities, and the Senior Center. We need to work and spend money to enhance the quality of life which will help attract folks to live, work, and retire here."

Kirby said there is, without a doubt, extreme pressure on our County Finances.

"Like many households, during times as we have recently experienced, the County has resorted to using a small portion of our savings (Fund Balance) to cover anticipated revenue shortfalls," he said. "I must stress that our County Manager, Kevin Howard and Finance Director, Cathy Smith have done an exceptional job of wringing every last dollar out of this budget so that we will be in great shape as we move forward."

The general fund revenues, excluding Social Services, is $15,760,859, with 71% of that total being Ad Valorem Taxes ($11,243,703).

The county anticipates collecting $2,105,395 in sales tax revenue during the upcoming fiscal year, a reduction of 10% from the current year projected revenue due to the impact of COVID-19.

The general fund expenditures are $15,760,859. Of that total, nearly 38% or $3,967,119, will go toward public safety, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, 911, jail, EMS and animal shelter. Public education — Edenton-Chowan Schools, College of the Albemarle and Shepard-Pruden Memorial Library — will receive $4,102,721 of the total, or 27%.

According to the budget, a total of $1,728,423 — $1,568,139 in principal and $160,334 in interest — will go toward paying the county’s debt. Last year, that amount was $2,435,256

Below is a listing a few of the budget highlights. The complete budget can be found online and requested from the county. Information on how to access the budget is located at: chowancounty-nc.gov/vertical/sites/%7B10E82D50-AAE0-43D7-A98A-42E82683885E%7D/uploads/Scanned_Budget_Ordinance_2021_with_Fees.pdf [chowancounty-nc.gov]

In terms of the public safety agencies, the budget appropriates $1,493,826 for the Chowan County Sheriff’s Office; $887,702 for the county’s detention center; $560,332, for the 911 system; $963,723, for EMS; $70,693 for animal control; and $217,998 for building maintenance at the Public Safety Center Building, Courthouse and jail.

In terms of public education, $3.5 million is allotted Edenton-Chowan Schools, while $200,000 will go toward the College of Albemarle. Shepard-Pruden Memorial Library will receive $193,000 in operating expenses and $39,310 for building maintenance needs.

In terms of government, $464,751 goes toward administrative and finance operations, while $425,170 goes to maintain department operations.

In terms of human services, $$869,054 is allocated for Social Services fund. The recreation department will have $513,424 to operate and an additional $64,000 for the maintenance needs at the Northern Chowan Community Center.

The proposed budget anticipates $2,721,366 in revenues and expenditures from the Social services program.

For fire districts, the county will spend $235,080 to the Center Hill Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department The Town of Edenton will receive $467,750 for its fire services to the non-town residents of Chowan County. The budget includes $15,000 for a tanker to the Belvidere Chappell Hill Fire Department which often provides services in Chowan County.

Staff writer Miles Layton can be reached at mlayton@ncweeklies.com