Tax rate unchanged, overall spending up about 2%

In his proposed Fiscal Year 2020 General Fund Budget presented to the Dare Board of Commissioners at its May 20 meeting, County Manager Bobby Outten called for spending $108,729,619 — a  decrease from the last two years due to the creation and implementation of the county's Capital Investment Fund (CIF).

      With the introduction of the CIF, first presented at the commissioners' board retreat in March, a strategic change was made in the county's budget structure and a separate fund was created for use with capital improvements. As part of this initiative, a Capital Planning and Debt Affordability Model is being developed to provide a "road map" for future debt and capital capacity.

      Factoring this separate fund into the General Fund Budget, there is an overall spending rise of $2,200,296 — a 1.95% increase over last year's budget.         

      Under the new budget, the county's property tax rate will remain at 47 cents per $100 of valuation, the sixth-lowest tax rate of the state's 100 counties. With requested department expenditures exceeding projected revenues, the decision was made to create a budget deficit of $4,588,452 for the new fiscal year — a decision Outten attributed to a desire not to increase taxes.

      "We had a large fund balance," he explained. "We are spending down that fund balance on purpose to avoid raising our tax, because we don't need that level of fund balance."

      Outten said the budget is "aligned with the priorities and direction given by the Board of Commissioners" on several "strategic focus areas." These include long-term financial capital planning and ongoing economic development through continued beach nourishment projects, partnering with the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce and efforts to create more affordable and workforce housing with zoning and planning changes.

      Other priorities include expanding the College of the Albemarle’s (COA) Dare County campus, continuing to implement recommendations of the Springsted Salary Study, with a 1.2% cost of living pay adjustment, and maintaining current levels of services without raising property taxes.

      The new budget also includes some spending reductions, such as $652,994 for capital outlay in 2019 not recurring in 2020; $637,809 for debt service payment reductions; $508,830 for Health Plan one-time specific stop-loss funding in 2019; $500,000 for the end of five years of "catch-up" deferred maintenance funding for Dare County Schools; $463,945 for salaries and fringes due to retirements and turnover; and $99,627 for various operating line items.

      The increased expenditures in the coming year include $883,739 to maintain net capital funding and $697,447 for local current expense for Dare County Schools in accordance with the funding formula. There is an additional $482,817 for EMS, including three new paramedic positions, and $478,000 for a 1.2% cost of living pay adjustment for all full-time employees and paid board members.

      Other increases include $474,100 for Information Technology, $450,000 for continuing the merit pay plan, $313,119 for the Sheriff's Office and $243,430 for COA. There is also an additional $194,322 for facilities maintenance, $181,196 for the Board of Elections, $131,305 for the county-wide property revaluation and $125,514 for Grants and Waterways.

      Also included in the increases are $122,514 for the Register of Deeds, $107,907 for the increased cost of insurance premiums, and $100,000 in additional funds transferred to the Inlet Maintenance Fund for Hatteras Inlet. 

      Of the total proposed school budget of $64.8 million, $24.5 million is the local funding provided by the county.

      At the conclusion of Outten's presentation, the board scheduled a budget hearing for its June 3 meeting. The deadline for approving the new budget is June 30, with the 2020 fiscal year starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2020.

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