Budget, tax rates always fun topics in campaign season

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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During campaign season, the county budget and taxes are always topics among the county commission candidates. The taxes and budget are too high and need to be reduced, some say; to others, it may be just right or even low in some areas such as schools and law enforcement.

It may seem a little early but it is already budget time in Beaufort County. The budget process does not stop for an election; it keeps moving forward. The budget is one of the primary duties of the Board of Commissioners.  

The approved general fund budget for 2023-2024 was $72,076,083. This number changes as different things pop up which the Board must address during the year.  The actual number is determined at the end of the budget year.

The 2024-2025 Beaufort County budget process started with the county commission planning retreat in January. Along the way, there will be several meetings with the departments.  

In May, the county manager’s recommended budget will be presented to the Board. Each year, while I was a commissioner, I would read the manager’s recommended budget in detail including every line item. I would highlight anything I questioned; part of my process.

In June, there will be a public hearing followed by Board discussion and hopefully, approval of a new budget.

Multiplying the tax rate by the sales assessment ratio produces an effective tax rate that allows comparison across all counties. With an effective tax rate of $0.4118, Beaufort County ranks the 19th lowest among all North Carolina Counties. The real tax rate you pay is 62.5 cents per $100 in property valuation.

Funding of Beaufort County Schools (BCS) and the Sheriff’s Office will receive attention from the candidates in this year’s election.

Recent pay increase for deputies to over $51,000 in Pitt County will make it more difficult to recruit deputies and fill SRO positions in Beaufort County. This could hinder the sheriff’s ability to fill SRO’s positions he committed to for Beaufort County Schools. Recruiting and retaining deputies has always been a problem.

Competition for workers when there is a shortage is always a problem that can result in a wage war. It’s not a war that Beaufort County would likely win and would put upward pressure on the budget if we play. Beaufort county has a shortage of teachers and law enforcement employees. 

Beaufort County School’s local budget from the county increased to $17,820,492 in the 2023-24 county budget. Over the last five years, this is a total increase of 10.9%. Pretty good from a budgeting standpoint.

County school candidates will focus on social, financial, and operational issues. National political trends will also come into play. Some will praise the improvement made by schools, others will look at failures and still others would simply want the schools to improve more.

I actually believe the schools have done well in a tough environment. Covid and the closing of schools across the country has not helped education. Others will differ but that’s what elections are about.

Al Klemm is a Washington resident and a former Beaufort County Commissioner.