Halifax County Manager Dia Denton this morning presented commissioners her budget message for the upcoming fiscal year — a $54,609,969 financial plan which calls for no tax increase, gives employees an 8 percent cost of living adjustment and draws $3,856,950 from the fund balance.
“With your insight, direction and support, this document represents a continuation of county services provided in the most cost-effective manner possible,” Denton told the board.
“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to evolve and adapt to a new normal, a changed working environment, but with no decrease in service demand. County staff continue to show great courage and dedication in providing services to our citizens.”
(As required by law, the budget will be available for public inspection in the clerk to the board’s office at the Historic Courthouse on King Street in Halifax and in all five county public libraries for the required 10 days. A public hearing will be held on Monday, June 5 at 9:30 a.m. with a final adoption scheduled for Monday, June 19 at 9:30 a.m. The proposed budget will also be available on the county’s website at www.halifaxnc.com)
Like most local governments, Denton said, “We are experiencing increasing expenses in every aspect of service delivery.”
She said, however, “Thankfully, here in Halifax County, we have experienced enough growth to fund recurring expenses. I remain optimistic about the county’s overall fiscal and economic outlook. We have a 64.79 percent — $51,331,513 — fund balance, which is well above the 8 percent suggested by the North Carolina Local Government Commission.”
Denton said sales tax revenues have remained strong, increasing by 9 percent from last year. “Based on the economic challenges we continue to face, I am impressed that we are able to maintain a good collection rate at an impressive 97.5 percent. With our conservative projections and healthy fund balance, I am confident we will have the ability to absorb any potential shortfalls in the budget should the economy take a severe downturn.”
The county manager said that the county continues to have positive movement in its economic development efforts. “I applaud the board of commissioners’ forward-thinking and proactive approach in continuing to position the county to create more jobs that pay a living wage in the future.”
The Premier Boulevard extension is already experiencing growth, she said, with more planned in the near future. “Along with support from our economic development commission, Executive
Director Cathy Scott and the county commissioners’ proactive approach, we are poised to have additional growth in our local economy.”
Denton said an additional $1,504,700 of fund balance will cover the costs of additional one-time employee and capital expenses, funding to Halifax Community College to assist with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and funding to various non-profits in support of community needs.
Despite the use of fund balance, the county’s audited total fund balance as of June 30 of last year is at 64.79 percent.
The county received $9,713,856 in American Rescue Plan Act-Coronavirus State and Local Recovery funds, of which $7,213,856 supplanted personnel expenses, thereby, freeing up that amount in the general fund, and setting aside $2,500,000 to address broadband accessibility, a top priority of the commissioners.
“As a result of freeing up those funds, the commissioners approved moving approximately $5,900,000 to the capital reserve fund to address major capital needs,” Denton said. “The majority of these funds will address water and sewer infrastructure upgrades, as well as other projects to enhance recreational opportunities in the county, renovate dilapidated meeting space, and upgrade an old facility to function as a county vehicle and bus maintenance garage to service fleets from all three local school systems.”
Calling the ARPA funds “once in a generation” money, Denton said they “will truly move the needle for the benefit of all in Halifax County.”
As required by the state, all counties with multiple graded school districts are
required to support each district equally as to local current expense funding based on each district’s average daily membership.
Counties must also provide funding for school capital needs.
This upcoming fiscal year budget provides additional capital funding for public schools and Halifax Community college totaling $780,000.
Each school system — Halifax County, Roanoke Rapids and Weldon — as well as HCC will each receive $195,000.
All three graded school systems will receive funding based on the supplemental school property tax rate within their respective districts.
The rates are:
Halifax County Schools — 10 cents per $100 of assessed value
Roanoke Rapids Graded School District — 21.5 cents per $100 of assessed value
Weldon City Schools — 20 cents per $100 of assessed value
Denton said the budget will achieve the following:
Continue county services at efficient and effective levels.
No property tax increase.
The budget is based on an estimated property tax base of $3,668,421,053 and a tax collection rate of 97.5 percent.
The tax rate of 76 cents per $100 value will be adequate to support the upcoming fiscal year budget.
The ADM funding will increase from $780.60 per pupil to $792.54 per pupil.
The budget continues to provide a competitive benefits package, which includes 100 percent paid premiums for health coverage for each full-time employee who participates in the county’s Wellness Program.
With increasing health costs, the budget had to absorb a 17 percent premium increase to maintain employee health coverage. “County staff intend to explore options to improve health benefits coverage in the coming year,” she said.
The budget maintains the longevity pay program, which the county manager described as a vital employee retention tool to reward long-term full-time employees.
An 8 percent COLA for full-time employees, as well as a bonus for full-time and regular part-time employees.
This budget funds the pay-for-performance evaluation plan, which is an employee retention tool.
Employees will receive a floating holiday.
The budget continues a hiring freeze, previous staff reductions and travel restrictions, which will remain in effect throughout the budget year.
The budget includes funds to support both economic development and contingency operations.
The budget continues to require employees to use county vehicles, when available, for travel, a policy that amounts to a savings of over 60 percent in travel costs versus paying mileage for use of personal vehicles.
The budget funds needed capital outlay for county departments.
The budget provides funding to non-profit community partners in the amount of $43,500.
“Historically, we have been faced with making difficult budgeting decisions in Halifax County
juggling a balance of needs and requests with available funds and forecasted revenues,” Denton said. “The past few years of the budget-planning process and implementation have been especially challenging in being able to complete projects. Even today, there are delays and long waits to receive vehicles, equipment and, occasionally, even basic items due to supply chain issues and shortages.”
The proposed budget, she said, “shows the county’s commitment to providing excellent services to its citizens. However, it only addresses items over which we, the county, have full control.” There will always be the potential for changes from both the federal and state government as the county adjusts to the new normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Staff and I will continue to work diligently with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, the North Carolina City and County Management Association and the National Association of Counties in communicating our concerns to both our state and federal legislators to ensure they are fully educated and aware of the potential implications of their decisions at the local level in Halifax County.”
She acknowledged the support she and her staff have received from the board and the core budget team of Deputy County Manager Renee Perry, Assistant County Manager Christina Wells, Finance Director Mary Duncan, and Assistant Finance Director Teresa Mozingo. “These team members are key pieces of the massive budget puzzle.”
Said Denton: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our employees for their hard work and dedication. Knowing our challenges, our employees are mindful of budget constraints and continue to look for ways to improve service delivery; this strong sense of loyalty is proven daily in my interactions with staff. It will always be my desire to provide strong, stable leadership and to take a fiscally conservative approach to maintaining and improving the quality of life for our citizens.”
Board Chair Vernon Bryant said, “I know how hard you all have worked since September of last year and it was brought to our retreat in December. I just tell folks everywhere I go we’ve got a great board of county commissioners and we also have a great staff.”