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Budget balancing process begins for Halifax County

Halifax County Supervisors serving on the finance committee got their first glimpse at the proposed 2014 budget that contains $86,293,607 in revenues and $91,311,656 in expenses.

Now the work begins as supervisors must decide how to balance the proposed budget and close the $5,018,049 gap.

County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson reviewed budget items line by line with members of the finance committee who met Monday afternoon prior to the regular board meeting.

Members of the finance committee are ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman who serves as chairman, ED-3 Supervisor William “Bill” Fitzgerald and ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis.

The budget calls for no increases in pay for county employees and does not pick up any increase in employees’ insurance premiums.

Of the $5 million deficit, over $3 million comes from the school budget that seeks $16,630,336 in local funding — over last year’s county funding of $12,906,000.

Included in the school budget request is funding for the purchase of 10 additional buses to replace an aging bus fleet.

The sheriff’s budget also reflects a $46,645 hike over last year’s budget.

Five additional vehicles are being sought to boost the sheriff’s department’s aging fleet of vehicles.

According to Jackson, the sheriff’s fleet includes 14 active patrol vehicles having over 150,000 miles, 12 with between 100,000 and 150,000, six with 50,000 to 100,000 miles and 13 that have less than 50,000 miles.

Increases in the Line of Duty Act insurance costs are reflected in the sheriff’s budget as well as in the volunteer fire departments’ line items.

The local fire departments also have included requests for funds to purchase two sets of personal protective equipment for each department as has the ambulance and rescue services.

The two branch libraries in the county have requested an additional $17,000 in local funding.

Although the county budget does not reflect salary increases for employees, Social Services did include a 3 percent cost of living allowance that accounts for a $4,765 increase in that department’s budget, Jackson said.

The 911 Fund also is seeking $246,724 in additional monies from the county in the upcoming budget year, $74,324 of which will match a grant to pay for a new phone system that is state mandated. Another $90,000 will cover an equipment lease that replaces aging 911 equipment, the finance director explained.

The 911 Fund increase also reflects 5 percent salary raises sought for employees who underwent EMD training and are now able to provide life-saving instructions to persons who call into the 911 center with life-threatening emergencies.

On the revenue side, Jackson said she anticipates receiving $250,000 in meal tax fees during the first full year of collections, up $100,000 over last year’s projected collections.

She also anticipates a $100,000 increase in business license taxes in the upcoming budget.

However, a $100,000 decrease in revenue is projected in the coming budget year for waste collection with the trend leaning toward county residents disposing of less trash.

When discussing ways to balance the budget, finance committee members asked Jackson and County Administrator Jim Halasz to provide more information on exact mileage on county vehicles, state funding proposals for employees’ salary increases, availability of inmates to pick up trash along county roads and updates on adding more convenience center sites to areas currently using individual green boxes.

Jackson told supervisors the county has $11.4 million in the fund balance with only $4.6 million being unassigned, unobligated and available for spending.

“We really need to plug this $5 million hole,” said Davis, who urged the finance director and administrator to contact the treasurer to check on progress being made to collect delinquent taxes.

“We need to do everything we can to be sure we are doing everything we can,” Davis added.

Chairman Bowman suggested the board could fill the gap by “minting a $5 million coin.”

If supervisors opt to increase taxes to offset the budget deficit, Jackson explained a one-cent increase on real estate taxes would generate $378,200 and a one-cent increase on personal property taxes would generate $18,000.

Jackson said supervisors would be presented copies of the draft budget during a 3:30 p.m. work session on March 4.