No tax increase in manager’s $196.2 million proposed budget

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—Brunswick County Manager Marty Lawing has recommended a county budget with no tax increase for the upcoming fiscal year.

At Monday night’s county commissioners meeting, Lawing made his annual budget presentation to commissioners; proposing a $196.2 million county budget with a 44.25-cent property tax rate.

The 44.25-cent rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is the same as the current fiscal year’s tax rate. A homeowner of a $250,000 home, for example, would pay $1,106.25 on their tax bill, Lawing said.

“Following four consecutive budgets drafted in the midst of declining and/or uncertain economic conditions and county revenue picture, we are beginning to see some stabilization and signs of improvement. Departmental budget requests were in line with the current year with some additional capital outlay additions that have been deferred in recent years,” Lawing said.

The $196.2 proposed budget is 2.9 percent more than the current fiscal year’s $190.6 million budget.

Lawing recommended a $149.6 million general fund budget, for which he said, “I think we may be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Fund balance and reserve transfers were used to balance the budget, Lawing said, but were lower than the previous three fiscal year’s contributions. Lawing recommends using $867,300 in reserve transfers and $1.3 million in fund balance, down from $2.4 million and $3.1 million respectively in the current budget.

Lawing recommended Brunswick County Schools receive $32.3 million from the county, which is up from the current fiscal year’s $31.2 million contribution.

“The total general obligation debt service for Brunswick County Schools for the 2012-2013 fiscal year is $6.7 million exclusive of debt serviced by sales tax revenue. Including the debt service, 39.1 percent of county ad valorem property tax revenue is appropriated for K-12 public education purposes,” Lawing said.

Brunswick Community College is recommended to receive $3.6 million, which is also up from the current year’s contribution.

Lawing recommends adding two full-time EMTs and one-third of a shared natural resources agent position.

“In an effort to reach a sustainable employee base, the fiscal year 2013 budget includes the elimination of 15 vacant positions representing a savings of approximately $594,993,” Lawing said.

Lawing recommends $5.8 million in capital improvements in the general fund. Among the recommended capital improvements are $90,000 for HVAC improvements in the social services building; $323,000 for a roof replacement for Building I; $100,000 to demolish the old jail;  $300,000 to demolish the old Brunswick Community Hospital; $250,000 for Brunswick River Park boat ramp; $280,000 for a sheriff’s office firing range and $3.6 million in Avalon community infrastructure improvements.

Other proposed capital outlay expenditures include 18 replacement patrol vehicles for the sheriff’s office at a cost of $451,000; two ambulances at $270,000; a $125,000 emergency communications paging system; $121,000 for security cameras in the courthouse and another $85,000 for a key card entry system for the courthouse; $145,000 for a track bulldozer; and $292,000 for imaging software and equipment.

Lawing also recommended a $40,000 comprehensive technology assessment with an additional $250,000 for implementation. He also recommends allocating $152,000 for replacing computers in various county departments.

What was not included in the budget are raises for county employees, improvements to Town Creek Park or funding for a Leland senior center.

Commissioners praised Lawing, finance director Ann Hardy and their staffs for their work on the budget.

“The last two years have been really difficult, but everybody really stepped up to the plate. Brunswick County is in a great position because of the attitude and the department heads and our employees have held it together. It’s just a great position to be in,” Brunswick County Commissioner Phil Norris said.

Enterprise fund

The county’s enterprise fund, or water and sewer funds, “continues to expand to meet the service needs of the retail and wholesale customers,” Lawing said.

“Although not increasing as rapidly as before the recession the customer base is experiencing moderate growth. The county currently has 34,254 water retail customers and 10,213 sewer retail customers. Fewer customer connections translates into lower capital recovery fee revenue, which is a source dedicated to the retirement of debt service for system expansion projects,” Lawing said.

The proposed water fund budget is $22 million, which is 14.5 percent higher than the current fiscal year’s budget.

No increases are recommended for the retail water rate.

The retail water rate is proposed to stay at an $11 monthly base charge plus $3.05 per 1,000 gallons of water consumed.

The wholesale and industrial water rates are adjusted annual based on the May Producer Price Index (PPI) each year.

“The new wholesale/industrial rate is estimated to increase by 3 cents this year based on the PPI for April. The actual rate is based on the May PPI. The current wholesale rate is $2.76 per 1,000 gallons. The rate cannot be finalized as the May PPI is not yet available, however, an estimate would be in the $2.79 range,” Lawing said.

The total recommended budget for the county’s wastewater fund is $20.1 million, up 3.3 percent from the current fiscal year.

Like the retail water rate, Lawing proposes no increase for the retail sewer rate.

The retail sewer rate is $39 monthly, and $6.50 per $1,000 gallons monthly up to 3,000 gallons.

Next steps

After Lawing’s budget presentation, commissioners set a public hearing on the proposed budget for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 4, in county commissioners’ chambers in Bolivia. Commissioners will have budget workshops on Thursday, June 7, and Friday, June 8.

Commissioners will vote on the budget at their June 18 meeting.

For more information on the proposed county budget, visit http://www.brunsco.net/Departments/GeneralGovernment/Finance/BudgetDocuments.aspx.

Caroline Curran is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or ccurran@brunswickbeacon.com.