On Tuesday, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners adopted the $45.8 million budget for fiscal year 2020-2021.
The commissioners held a meeting Tuesday at the Universal Advanced Manufacturing Center. One of the items on their agenda was voting on the county’s budget of $45,893,518 for fiscal year 2020-2021.
In early June, County Manager Ashley Wooten formally presented the commissioners with the 2020-2021 budget. State law requires that recommended budgets be presented to the local governments in North Carolina and that the recommendation must be balanced. Counties like McDowell operate on a fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. The 2020-2021 budget of $45,893,518 represents an increase of $450,675 or .99% from the previous budget of $45,442,843.
The adopted budget calls for the county property tax rate of 58.75 cents per $100 valuation to stay the same as from last year’s. It maintains public education funding largely at the current level and makes more investments in the county Emergency Services and the Sheriff’s Office. The proposed budget seeks to recruit and retain skilled county staff and improve county facilities. However, it doesn’t include a pay raise for county employees. It also seeks to invest in community and economic development.
Wooten presented the budget later than usual because of the uncertainty from the COVID-19 situation.
On Monday, June 15, the commissioners held a public hearing about the budget as required by state law. Two members of the public spoke about the budget at that hearing.
And on Tuesday, the commissioners took action regarding the plan for 2020-2021. Before voting, Commission Chairman David Walker said he wanted to bring up five points regarding the budget.
First, Walker pointed out the budget doesn’t include a pay raise for county employees. He asked county staff to work on finding a way to give county workers a raise.
Second, Walker said he hoped that the county could lower the property tax rate but then COVID-19 happened. That meant less revenue coming into the county government. He said hopefully, the board can lower the property tax rate next year.
The third point he wanted to make was about the county’s funding for parks and recreation programs and facilities. More than $1 million was requested for the county’s parks and recreation. Walker said that is not possible now but he hopes the board will continue to look into funding more for recreation.
The fourth point concerned the county’s funding for McDowell Technical Community College. The county provides the money for the college’s physical needs like buildings, grounds and utilities. The state provides the money for the salaries of faculty and staff. Walker suggested reaching out to the interim president of McDowell Tech and schedule a joint meeting of both the commissioners and the college’s Board of Trustees to find out what the needs are.
Walker’s last item concerned the county’s fund balance. This is the portion of the county’s budget that is set aside for unforeseen problems, similar to a savings account. The commission chairman said McDowell County government needed to build up its fund balance and the state of North Carolina sent county officials a letter regarding this matter. Wooten said the state is urging the county to maintain a fund balance similar to other counties with the same population and economy.
Commissioner Lynn Greene said it is like using your savings account too much and that money can go quickly. He has voiced his concerns before about using fund balance money for projects.
After a discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the budget for 2020-2021.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the McDowell County Commissioners:
Heard an update on the COVID-19 situation in McDowell County from Emergency Management Director William Kehler. He talked about how other counties have had outbreaks of the coronavirus at long-term care facilities like nursing homes and retirement homes. McDowell has managed to avoid those situations. “That is our No. 1 priority, protecting our most vulnerable citizens,” said Kehler. Commissioner Barry McPeters said the county should recognize the long-term care facilities in McDowell for how they are handling the COVID-19 crisis.
Approved an easement so Duke Energy can extend electrical power to the planned shooting range. Wooten said the bids for the construction of this long-awaited shooting range will be opened today. The commissioners have strongly supported this shooting range, which is a project with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “It’s about to happen. That’s great,” said Walker.
Approved selling two parcels of county-owned property on Forest Lake Heights Drive. This land, totaling 65 acres, was originally purchased by the county to be a part of McDowell’s water system.
Approved a series of 2020 budget amendments and water rate adjustments. The commissioners approved a 3% rate increase for Nebo Water System customers effective Aug. 1. This increase will offset the increase cost of water purchased from the city of Marion. There were also several adjustments to tap and connection fees to bring them in line to the city of Marion’s fees.
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