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Beaufort County Commissioners receive recommended budget

The county’s recommended budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 has been delivered to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

The county has weathered the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic well, County Manager Brian Alligood said.

“As you recall, last year we looked at the budget and said, ‘We’re going to be in trouble.’ All the folks who were the estimators were saying everybody’s gonna be in trouble — watch your sales tax revenues, they’re going to fall off,” Alligood told the commissioners Monday. “(They said) we don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re going to shut down, and it’ll be terrible.

“Well, things did shut down. And we anticipated that they would be terrible. We cut our revenues with that being the case, and thankfully that’s not what occurred. We actually saw, in some instances, where state revenues on the sales tax decreased more than what we had. And we outpaced the state as a whole several times we collected sales tax.”

There are still uncertainties that the recommended budget accounts for. Alligood noted that the restart of local, state and world economies will “make or break” the county’s budget.

“We can’t continue the fuel that’s been poured onto the economy by some of the relief pieces,” Alligood said. “It’s good that they put those in place to try to help get through these things, but our challenge is to understand when that fire starts getting terminated, and when those revenues start to turn just a little bit.”

The budget document can be viewed here. Following are some highlights from the recommended budget:

—   The recommended budget maintains the county’s ad valorem tax rate at $0.635 for each $100 of assessed valuation. At the assumed collection rate, the county will generate approximately $37.5 million in property tax revenue.

—   The recommended general fund budget is $62,822,367, which is 5.81% more than the original budget for the current fiscal year. That increase is driven primarily by the county’s 2017 classification and pay study. It is also driven by a recommendation to spend $500,000 on a new storage facility that would accommodate the county’s growing storage needs and serve as a receiving and distribution site for supplies during natural disasters, as well as a $500,000 allocation Beaufort Community College requested for its new boatbuilding curriculum.

—   The recommended budget maintains all county services and programs provided in the prior year. Alligood noted that the delivery method of Beaufort County Schools’ school resource officer program has changed significantly. Beginning in the new fiscal year, the school system will receive its SRO services from a private contractor, Allied Universal, rather than the Sheriff’s Office. Because of that, county funding that the Sheriff’s Office previously received to provide those services has been shifted to the school system, and 13 SRO positions within the Sheriff’s Office have been eliminated. That drops the number of authorized full-time positions in the Sheriff’s Office from 102 to 89 in the recommended budget.

—   The recommended budget includes increases in K-12 public school funding, which accounts for the school system and Beaufort County Community College.  BCS requested flat funding for current expense and capital spending. In addition to that, the proposed budget also includes $603,600 to help fund the school system’s SRO contract. The county originally committed to an annual allocation of $650,000 for that purpose, but that allocation dropped along with the cost of the contract following negotiations between BCS and Allied Universal. The budget includes a $563,025 increase in BCCC spending, which is mostly due to the boatbuilding curriculum capital expense.

—   The recommended budget includes a $5 increase in the solid waste fee to offset the cost of increasing solid waste tonnage and to help pay for a new contract to operate the county landfill site.

—   The recommended budget increases water rates by 3% in accordance with the long-term funding plan established and approved by the commissioners in the fiscal year 2018-19. This is the fourth year of the five-year plan to equalize rates across all districts due to the consolidation of the districts into one operation fund.

—   The recommended budget doesn’t appropriate any money from the general fund’s balance.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Board of Commissioners will hold several budget workshop sessions to review, discuss and modify the recommended budget. All workshop meetings will begin at 5 p.m. in the boardroom located at 136 W. Second St. in Washington. On Thursday, May 20, the point of discussion will be the general fund; on Tuesday, May 25, the commissioners will discuss the rest of the general fund and the enterprise funds; on Thursday, May 27, the commissioners will look at service expansions; and on Tuesday, June 1, the Board will work to finalize the budget. The public hearing for the new budget will be held during the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on June 7. In case the commissioners need more time to scrutinize the budget after the public hearing, a special called meeting has been scheduled for June 10.