Except for a 2% across the board salary increase and a few other changes, Wilkes County’s fiscal 2020-21 budget was okayed Tuesday night as recommended by County Manager John Yates.

The pay raise for all county government employees increased costs in the budget by $471,977. The commissioners unanimously approved it in their only work session on the new budget. The fiscal 2019-20 budget also had a 2% across the board pay raise.

Also added to the draft budget presented by Yates were $1,750 for the Lincoln Heights Recreation Corp., inadvertently omitted initially, and $7,500 for a spay and neuter program in the animal control department.

The pay raise and the Lincoln Heights and spay and neuter appropriations are being funded with $481,227 from the county’s undesignated general fund balance.

As Yates recommended, the new budget is balanced by taking another $3.3 million of the undesignated general fund balance for general fund expenditures. This leaves about $23.5 million in the undesignated general fund balance.

The general fund budget portion is about $76.5 million, down 11% from $85 million in fiscal 2019-20.

Expenditures include two new ambulance remounts for Wilkes Emergency Medical Services for $217,000, a local match of $445,000 for a taxiway paving project at the Wilkes County Airport and $202,000 as the local match for ConnectNC bond funds for Wilkes Community College.

One new full-time position – an additional building inspector – is included. Yates said this is needed to continue providing timely service. He explained that there is a shortage of building inspectors statewide and several Wilkes County building inspectors are close to retiring.

The new budget increases the Millers Creek Fire District tax rate by 1 cent to 8 cents per $100 of property valuation instead of a 3-cent hike initially requested by the Millers Creek board and included in Yates’ draft budget.

The Millers Creek board reduced its request by 2 cents after numerous residents of the fire district voiced opposition to the 3-cent increase in a public hearing held by the commissioners earlier this month.

Fire district taxes are collected by the county with property taxes and passed on to the fire departments.

The new budget leaves the county property tax rate unchanged at 66 cents per $100 of property valuation as Yates proposed. One cent of the tax rate generates a little over $550,000.

A key issue for the commissioners in budget discussions has been a projected 25% reduction in sales tax revenue in fiscal 2020-21, largely in April and May, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed to prevent its spread.

When Commissioner Keith Elmore made the motion to approve the budget, he said there could be numerous budget amendments later depending on how sales tax revenue goes.

Most county department budgets were cut 10-14% in the new budget in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on county government finances.

The new budget leaves nonprofits, the Wilkes County Schools and Wilkes Community College with 14% less than they received in fiscal 2019-20.

The new budget does not include additional funds for the Wilkes County Schools and for the Wilkes Heritage Museum, which were requested in a public hearing on the budget. A parent of a student in the Wilkes schools voiced opposition to Wilkes school funding being cut 14% at the hearing. The request on behalf of the museum was for funds for two new heating and air conditioning units to replace units that ceased functioning.

Tuesday night’s meeting was held remotely due to the pandemic.

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