Commissioners pass county budget 5-2

Published 2:43 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

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The Board of Beaufort County Commissioners approved the county’s annual budget during their regular meeting on Monday, June 5. The budget for fiscal year 2023-2024 totals $72,076,083 which is a 4.2% increase. 

The budget maintains a current ad valorem tax rate of $0.625 for each $100 of assessed valuation. At this rate, the county is expected to bring in an estimated $39.9 million in property tax revenue. According to a summary of the budget written by County Manager Brian Alligood, property taxes will make up 56.5% of the budget. 

The budget increases the solid waste fee by $5 to offset the cost of rising solid waste disposal and inflation. This will raise the total amount of solid waste fees to $180. The increased fee will apply to all residences including mobile homes, single and multi-family dwellings, churches and other nonprofit organizations, according to the budget ordinance. The fee will be added to the 2023 property tax bill. 

The water rate will remain unchanged. 

There is also levied taxes for Fire and EMS districts and the Town of Chocowinity and Pantego Township, all per $100 valuation: 

Chocowinity Township Fire Protection District for fire protection ($0.043), Chocowinity Township ($0.05), Richland Fire and Rescue District for fire and rescue protection ($0.0600), Northside Fire Service District for fire protection ($0.041), Bath Township EMS Service District ($0.05), Beaufort County Washington Township ($0.05), Beaufort County Long Acre Township EMS Service District for EMS service and Broad Creek and Pinetown EMS are included ($0.035), Pantego Township and within municipal areas of Pantego ($0.05). 

According to County Manager Brian Alligood, one reason why the county’s budget is higher than last year can be attributed to a rise in sales tax revenue. “Sales tax revenues have shown strong growth with returns reaching record levels,” Alligood wrote in a summary of the budget. 

Sales tax revenues are up $2,103,756 or 16.71% from last year’s estimate, but future sales tax growth could slow because of inflation and efforts by the Federal Reserve to decrease inflation. 

Sales tax revenue in Beaufort County is used to fund the annual budget for Beaufort County Schools. Their budget increased by $1,470,461 or 8.7% from last year. The school district requested $14,587,140 from the county commission for their 2022-2023 budget. Therefore, their base budget will be more than $16 million. 

Within the budget there is a 5% minimum Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for county employees.  

Before the commissioners voted on the budget, they were given time to provide their comments on it. 

“I think if anybody goes back and looks through the videos of the four budget sessions that we had, you’ll find that we went through this in great detail,” Commissioner John Rebholz said. 

“We have met the needs of the county,” he continued, “the whole discussion about saving money for future needs is something that is absolutely ingrained in good fiscal responsibility. I think that we are doing and meeting the needs and the wants of the community.” 

Rebholz referenced an earlier discussion during the meeting where Commissioner Hood Richardson suggested the county use money from its reserves to lower the tax rate to $0.58. 

Richardson then explained why he voted against the county’s budget. “I’m not voting for a budget that makes government larger, takes advantage of people, that fails to recognize that it’s the people that provide the money and the people that deserve when they’re overtaxed – they deserve having that money returned to them.”

Commissioner Randy Walker believes the budget is good, because it had little resistance from county residents unlike past years. Having been in the county for the last 20 years, Walker recalled when public comment periods about the budget were held at the county courthouse. 

“We had to have it at the courthouse, because people were lined out the door to complain. We had a problem.” He continued to share his belief that when there are only two residents comment on the budget during a public comment period then “you must have a pretty good budget.” 

Commissioner Ed Booth said he voted for the budget because of the salary raise for county employees. “The biggest item that’s in this budget increase is for our employees,” Booth said. “Any employee that works 12 months out of the year deserves a raise. I don’t care what it is…I told you three months ago I was going to vote for this budget, to give them their money, and that is the only reason that I’m going to vote for this budget is because I promised that I was going to give them the money that this study required.” 

Vice Chairman Commissioner Jerry Langley also noted the COLA increase for employees saying, “county government is attached to people and a county is only as good as its people are. If you have happy employees, they will do an even greater job than what they are doing now.” 

He continued to say that the employees he has interacted with excel at their jobs. “You reward people for good behavior and for great behavior.” 

Langley believes it is a “very, very, good budget.” 

Commissioner Stan Deatherage commented next, expressing dissent. He described himself as being “taxpayer centric.” He shares a similar view to Richardson in that taxes could be lowered. 

 Chairman Frankie Waters said Beaufort County’s tax rate is the 19th lowest in the state based on a sales ratio. This budget helps the county be competitive in the job market by offering salary raises and, now, dental insurance. He said the county has a turnover rate of 15%. He voted for the budget, because “it was the right thing for Beaufort County.”