PQ County Budget Proposal Seeks Conservative Spending Approach

Frank Heath 

Perquimans County Commission’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020/21 tightens spending and seeks the same property tax rate fiscal as the present fiscal year – the lowest tax rate in the region at .59 cents per $100 of value.

County Manager Frank Heath’s recently released financial forecast indicates some revenue growth, but these positive projections are tempered by the economic effects of the COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the County to enact measures that reflect our decreased projected revenue,” Heath wrote in his budget message to the county commission. “If the revenue picture improves or increased federal funding arrives, then we may be able to make adjustments to the budget later in the fiscal year to accomplish some needed projects. The goal, as always, is to keep the state of County financial and administrative affairs sound.”

Budget proposal does not provide for county employees nor seek to hire any new full-time positions.

School funding remains flat with the same $2.9 allocation as last year. The water rates for Perquimans County will remain unchanged for the upcoming fiscal year.

Commissioners will be working with budget so as to have approved by or before June 30.

The General Fund budget is $16,436,012 for 2020-2021, a decrease of $61,805 from the current year’s amended budget of $16,497,817.

Total taxable value increased from $1,329,941,994 to $1,351,508,515, or 1.6% which Heath’s budget message said is the highest percentage growth in ad valorem taxable value in 11 years. An additional $197,743,755 in value was added due to the Desert Wind project. After fourth year depreciation and the grant agreement with the County, the net gain in value would be $78,425,085, or five percent of the County’s total tax value.

Heath estimated an additional $462,708 in revenue for FY 20-21 as a result. The negative effect of the COVID-19 epidemic cannot be overstated in relation to this year’s proposed revenue calculations.

Ad valorem tax revenue will be static despite a healthy increase in total taxable value, namely because the collection percentage is expected to decline due to the unsteady economy. Sales tax related revenues are expected to decrease significantly. Inspections, Recreation and Register of 2 Deeds fees are also expected to be down.

“These declines in revenue will force us to enact austerity measures ,” Heath said.

Heath provided one positive note about how the county is going to use $234,809 of the budgeted fund balance appropriation from last fiscal year of $872,941. This will allow the county to designate $983,000 out of fund balance for the current year’s budge so as the tax rate for fiscal year 2020/21 will remain 59 cents per hundred dollars of value.

Sales tax revenues are the second largest source of the county’s general fund revenues. Based on expected declines due to the poor economic conditions, Heath said, sales tax revenues are projected to decrease by a total of $209,369 compared to last year’s budgeted amount, for a total of $1,525,000.

Also, forecast calls for $350,000 to be added to Perquimans’ sales tax allocation to reflect the additional services taxed by the General Assembly in 2016. This is a decline of $47,008 from last fiscal year. Medicaid 3 hold harmless payments from the State, which are tied directly to sales tax calculations, are projected at $275,000 this year, a decrease of $65,670. Expected Land Transfer Tax revenues in FY 2020-21 are $380,000, the same as last year.

As presented by the Board of Education and school staff earlier this spring, the Perquimans County School System has requested $3,173,737 for school current expense, an increase of $273,737 over last year’s County appropriation of $2.9 million.

This represents a 9% requested increase from the previous fiscal year. The proposed FY 2020-21 County budget maintains the local current expense budget at $2.9 million. Heath said this continues a significant commitment by the County Board of Commissioners to fund instructional services, support services, athletics, maintenance and utilities. The school capital outlay budget maintains at $475,000.

In other matters, due to limited revenues because of the epidemic, the budget proposal freezes all major non-COVID related capital purchases and caps total annual capital expenditures at no more than $10,000 per 4 department. If revenues are better than expected later in the fiscal year, the County may be able to engage in capital projects via budget amendment.

The proposed budget contains no cost of living adjustment, no step increases and no merit increases for employees. Included is a 1% 401k match for employees. Perquimans County participates in the State Health plan, and health insurance rates are projected to increase to $607 per employee per month.

The rate of $607 monthly includes a projected 5% increase in rates and $25 per month per employee that the State charges employees for the base 70- 30 plan. The health benefit alone adds a value of over $7200 to each employee’s compensation package, so it remains a significant benefit to County workers.

The North Carolina Local Government Employees Retirement System employers’ contribution will increase to 10.23% from 9.05% for FY 20-21. This budget includes no new full-time positions.

Other Noteworthy Items:

  • Funding for the County Fire Departments remains at $75,000 each.
  • Funding for the Perquimans County Library remains at $187,500.
  • $20,000 for code enforcement/house removal.
  • Albemarle District Jail remains a considerable expenditure, at $701,197.

Water Fund Perquimans continues to make significant investment in its overall ability to provide water to its customers. Perquimans will continue to purchase 150,000 gallons of reverse osmosis water from Pasquotank County that services customers on the Winfall plant side.

The bulk water rate that 5 Pasquotank County charges is expected to remain $6.00 per thousand gallons. County will replace softener media at the Bethel plant in this budget and it’ll also begin the process for a discharge relocation for the Winfall plant.

County will allocate $100,000 for the replacement of aging water meters throughout our system. The total water fund budget for the Fiscal Year 2020-21 is $2,578,376.

The water rates for Perquimans County will remain unchanged for the upcoming fiscal year. Solid Waste Fund The proposed solid waste fee for FY 20-21 is $140, no increase from last fiscal year.

This fee covers the cost of operating the five Convenience Site locations, the County’s portion of the PerquimansChowan-Gates Transfer Station operating cost, and the tipping fee for the County’s solid waste at the private landfill in Bertie County. The total solid waste fund budget is projected at $974,109.

“We’ve made significant capital improvements to our sites, including additional compactors,” Heath said.

Miles Layton can be reached at mlayton@ncweeklies.com