The Alexander County Board of Commissioners discussed the proposed fiscal year 2023-2024 budget at the May 15th meeting. The proposed budget includes a 12-cent property tax decrease, which would lower the tax rate to 67 cents per $100 valuation if approved. A public hearing to discuss the proposed budget is scheduled for June 5, with the adoption of the budget set for June 19.
“This budget has been developed with a focus on achieving the goals, objectives, and strategic vision of the Board of County Commissioners while maintaining an exceptional level of service provision to our citizens,” said Marty Pennell, Commission Chairman and Interim County Manager. “With inflation affecting the cost of nearly all commodities, the proposed tax rate reflects a reasonable compromise which will help to offset the impact of the recently completed property revaluation, while still allowing the county to maintain the current level of service provided to our citizens and continue along a path to be fiscally responsible in planning for future needs.”
The proposed General Fund budget totals $56,841,859 and includes $4,000,270 of appropriated fund balance. The proposed budget includes no tax increases in the fire districts and no fee increases for building inspections or fire inspections. Although fire tax rates will remain unchanged, all fire districts will receive additional funding for 2023-2024 as a result of the property revaluation.
“The additional funding that will be received by the fire departments will help offset rising costs of operation faced by each department and ensure they are able to provide vital fire protection and life safety services to the citizens of Alexander County,” Pennell said.
The City of Hickory is proposing a 10 percent increase in water and sewer rates, pending approval of the Hickory City Council.
County departments requested $2,645,536 in capital outlay expenditures; however, the proposed budget only includes $1,745,224 of those requests. Capital outlay items in the proposed budget include funding for a new fire training center – $101,458, sheriff’s office vehicle replacements – $290,000, county vehicle fleet replacements – $264,678, HVAC updates for courthouse – $75,000, county building maintenance and repairs – $110,000, information technology network security enhancements and equipment replacement – $132,500, new ambulance – $263,000, and EMS quick response vehicle – $56,500.
Several new positions were requested by various departments for the upcoming budget year, but most will be delayed until Shane Fox, the new county manager, begins duties at which time he can make recommendations to the board.
Alexander County has a number of major projects that will begin or continue in the 2023-2024 budget year, including water and sewer infrastructure improvements, a broadband internet expansion partnership, economic development initiatives, public park improvements, and more.
During the current budget year, Alexander County partnered with Alexander County Schools to help hire school resource officers at all six elementary schools in the county. These positions are partially funded through a grant obtained by the school system; however, the county will be responsible for salaries, benefits, and equipment once grant funds have expired.
Alexander County Schools requested $9,211,130 for the 2023-2024 school year, which is an increase of $1,893,702 over the prior year’s request. The proposed county budget appropriates $7,383,428 for fiscal year 2023-2024. The budget also includes $332,717 from the School Capital Improvement Fund to cover the local match for improvements at Sugar Loaf and Bethlehem elementary schools.
“The last thing this board wants to do is cost our citizens one cent more than we have to. It takes a lot of money to run a public education system,” said Josh Lail, Commission Vice Chairman. “I’m a firm believer in public education, but when the state says you need to cut positions due to declining student enrollment, that needs to happen. All we’re trying to do is make the best decisions for the citizens of Alexander County.”
Chairman Pennell summarized the proposed budget. “With Alexander County facing a number of challenges this year, efforts have been made to present a budget that is as conservative as possible while still ensuring the continued operation of all county functions and services,” Pennell stated. “I am thankful for the efforts that staff have made toward keeping this year’s budget requests aligned with the board’s priorities of presenting a fiscally sound and conservative budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.”
A copy of the proposed 2023-2024 budget is on file with the Clerk to the Board and is available for public inspection.
In other business:
• Thomas Mitchell, Director of Social Services, requested that DSS supervisors be allowed to work from home one day each week as part of the department’s efforts to recruit and retain employees. He said that non-supervisory staff are already teleworking. Following discussion by commissioners, the request was declined by a vote of 3-2.
• Sylvia Turnmire, Director of Human Resources, presented several revisions to the county’s personnel policy. The main changes include specifying the lunch break period, utilizing the state holiday schedule, rounding existing annual leave rates and creating a 12-hour rate to acknowledge 12-hour shifts, placing parameters on the ability to use “leave without pay,” changing “child involvement leave” to “community involvement leave,” and recognizing previous service time in calculating the annual leave rate for rehired employees. The board approved the revisions. The changes become effective July 1, 2023.
• Commissioners held a public hearing to discuss amendments to the Alexander County Special Events Ordinance. Ben Faulkenberry, County Attorney, presented the recommended changes to the board. He said the major change to the ordinance is requiring a special event permit for any event with an attendance greater than 500 people, with the exception of schools and churches. Faulkenberry said events of this size require special coordination with county and emergency personnel to ensure the safety of attendees. In addition, the revised ordinance does not allow the waiver of event fees. The board approved the amendments as presented.
• Commissioners approved five budget amendments. One amendment increased the Parks Department budget by $5,060 for donations for a Rick French memorial planned at Rocky Face Park.
• Commissioners appointed citizens to the following committees: Council on Aging – appoint Pat Carter for three years; reappoint Kristy Hunt, Jeri Perry, Douglas Howes, and Julie Sebastian for three years; and Juvenile Crime Prevention Council – appoint Ethan Windsor and reappoint Eugene Smith.
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners typically meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. The next regular meeting is set for Monday, June 5 at 6:00 p.m. Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.