CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said $47,350 is included in the proposed budget for Wilkes Emergency Medical Services. This amount actually is in the proposed budget for two new vehicles for the Wilkes Department of Social Services.

A draft fiscal 2019-20 budget with a 1-cent drop in the property tax rate, making it 66 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, was presented to the Wilkes County commissioners Tuesday night.

Wilkes County Manager John Yates said in presenting the proposed budget that the 1-cent reduction would make it a “revenue neutral” tax rate since the new county property revaluation increased the Wilkes tax base by 2.7% to $5.83 billion.

In a budget work session in February, commissioners indicated support for lowering the tax rate by a penny to make it revenue neutral. The rate has been 67 cents since fiscal 2016-17, when it was cut by 2 cents.

Although 66 cents would raise roughly the same amount of revenue as the prior year, property owners whose values increased more than the countywide aggregate of 2.7 percent as a result of the revaluation would see their tax bills rise.

A person with property valued by the county tax office at $125,000 would have a property tax bill of $825 with a 66-cent tax rate and $837.50 with a 67-cent tax rate.

The commissioners set a budget work session for 5:30 p.m. May 28 in the commissioners’ room in the Wilkes County Office Building. Budget work sessions, like other work sessions, are open to the public. The board set a public hearing on the proposed budget for 6:30 p.m. May 21. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Schools, WCC, library

The proposed budget includes $13.8 million for operations (up from $13.28 million the prior year) and $650,000 for capital expenses (same as prior year) for the Wilkes County Schools.

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd requested $14.62 million for operations and $800,000 for capital expense. The draft budget also passes on sales tax revenue and lottery proceeds from the state designated for public schools.

It has $4.1 million for Wilkes Community College, up 3.29% from $4.03 million the prior year. This includes $3.4 million for current expenses, $150,000 for capital expenses, $366,000 for salary supplements and $202,000 as a local match for ConnectNC bond funds. Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president, sought $4.68 million.

The draft budget has $662,009 for the Appalachian Regional Library, up from $636,739 the prior year. The request was for $690,773. The draft budget also has $31,316 for the Traphill Branch Library, which is the amount requested. The Traphill branch received $27,900 the prior year;

Personnel

The proposed budget has $373,000 for a 2% cost of living pay raise for all fulltime county employees. It has another $56,110 for pay hikes exceeding 2% for 26 Wilkes Sheriff’s Office positions.

It includes $160,500 for four additional Wilkes Emergency Medical Services paramedics to provide 24-hour staff at a proposed satellite base in Mountain View and increase the Millers Creek satellite base from 12-hour to 24-hour coverage.

There is a 4% increase in county government’s cost of providing health insurance for all fulltime county employees in the draft budget. The total cost is $4.62 million, which includes four new paramedics.

Also in draft budget

The proposed budget also includes:

• $1.75 million for a new landfill cell on the county landfill property in Roaring River, $420,000 for an articulated truck, $35,000 for another new truck and $9,000 for 20-yard containers for collecting glass;

• $300,000 to replace the Wilkes County Courthouse roof;

• $300,000 to match grants for resurfacing the Wilkes County Airport taxiway;

• $354,729 for Wilkes EMS for two new ambulances, one cardiac monitor and one mechanical compression CPR device;

• $255,000, same as prior year, to the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. The EDC requested $267,750;

• $254,200, same as prior year as requested, to Asheville-based Vaya for behavioral health services in Wilkes;

• $163,190 for renovating a county-owned building on Curtis Bridge Road to expand its use by the Wilkes Department of Social Services Child Protective Services and two new vehicles. Also, $47,350 for two Wilkes DSS vehicles;

• $150,000 for five sheriff’s office vehicles to replace the same number of high mileage vehicles;

• $94,000 for computer upgrades in various county departments;

• $50,000 for the Wilkes Transportation Authority, up from $20,000 in fiscal 2018-19;

• $73,000 for building a shelter/restroom/bathhouse facility in the old skate park area at the Lowe’s Park at Rivers Edge, as well as removing fencing and cement at that location;

• $33,000 for a new four-wheel drive pickup for the county garage;

• $30,000 to replace a jail vehicle lost in an accident. It is used to transport inmates on short trips;

• $15,000 to repair a parking lot at the Wilkes Animal Control building to accommodate more vehicles;

• $14,000 for a new mower to maintain the county fire training grounds off Mount Carmel Church Road in Moravian Falls and $8,000 for a containment fill station, both in the fire marshal’s budget;

• $8,000 for half the cost of a utility vehicle and trailer and $5,250 for a handicapped stream crossing at the Edwin H. McGee Center, both in the Wilkes Soil & Water Conservation budget.

The proposed budget includes the same amounts as in fiscal 2018-19 for nonprofit entities except: Wilkes Rescue Squad, $200,000, up from $172,000 in fiscal 2018-19; Catherine Barber Homeless Shelter, $10,000 proposed, up from $7,000; Elkin Valley Trails Association, $6,100 proposed, up from $3,600; Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor, $2,500, down from $7,500; and N.C. Forest Service, $94,747, up from $90,400.

More on revenue

One penny of the tax rate produces $583,623 in county property tax revenue and a 66-cent tax rate would generate about $38.5 million if it all was collected. The collection rate typically is around 97%.

County government’s sales tax revenue in fiscal 2019-20 is projected at $17.6 million in the draft budget, which is about 10% more than was budgeted the prior year. Yates said the projection is based on steady growth of sales tax revenue the last couple of years.

Other revenue includes using $4.72 million of county government’s unassigned fund balance, which is money not committed for any purpose.

County government had an unassigned fund balance of $25.71 million when fiscal 2017-18 ended this past June 30, which was 32.4 percent of budgeted general fund expenditures.

The unassigned fund balance dropped to $3.55 million (5.51 percent) during the recession, well below the percentage recommended by the state and this resulted in warning letters from the N.C. Local Government Commission.

General fund revenue and spending balance at $83.7 million in the draft budget, which is 3.3% more than in fiscal 2018-19. Adding airport, landfill, fire department and 911 revenue and spending, as well as other grants, the total proposed budget is $98.9 million.

Property tax revenue accounts for 46%, sales tax revenue for 21% and money appropriated from the unassigned fund balance for 5.65% of the draft $83.7 million general fund budget. The remainder is state and federal appropriations and revenue from fees and permits.

The only fire tax district with a proposed fire tax rate hike is Moravian Falls, where a 4-cent increase is proposed—making it 9 cents per $100 of property valuation. The Moravian Falls District’s current 5-cent rate is the lowest in the county and 9 cents will still be among the lowest.

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