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September 26, 2020

County manager’s ‘tight, conservative’ budget would halt new construction for schools

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — On Monday, Rowan County Manager Aaron Church presented the Board of Commissioners a “conservative” 2020-21 budget that would halt construction of all new facilities for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Kannapolis City Schools and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

The halt would include all architectural and engineering designs, including the $45 million bond that would fund the Technology Education Complex at RCCC approved by voters in March, and the combined Knox Middle and Overton Elementary.

“The purpose of this is to take a break for a year,” Church said, adding that “this isn’t the year to raise taxes on citizens in the middle of a pandemic.”

Commissioner Chairman Greg Edds said he spoke with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Rowan-Salisbury Schools officials and that they understood the need for the decision.

The total 2020-21 budget presented to commissioners amounted to $176.4 million in expenditures, with $153.5 million from the general fund. That’s a 4% reduction from the previous year, where the general fund budget was $159.48 million.

The proposed budget, which must be adopted by July 1, includes an estimated 9.5% reduction in sales tax revenue, which amounts to a $2.5 million loss. Counties throughout the state won’t know the total March sales tax revenue amounts until June 15 as that revenue takes three months to reach each county. It’ll take another month for the April revenue to reach counties, which economists anticipate included an even deeper economic decline.

“The budget is tight, and the budget is conservative,” Church said.

Additionally, the collection rate of property taxes decreased by 1.25%, but the full collections amount won’t be known until mid-July. The county projects a 96.5% tax collection rate, which is “conservative enough to be in good shape for next year’s budget,” said Assistant County Manager and Finance Director Leslie Heidrick.

If adopted, the budget will not raise taxes and will maintain the 65.75 cents per $100 in valuation rate.

Church praised the county for lowering its fund balance appropriation in the coming year’s budget for the first time in 10 years. The fund balance is partially a savings account to help balance the budget when needed. The fund balance appropriation was reduced by 41.3% in Church’s proposal for a total of nearly $6.8 million recommended in the 2020-21 budget, compared to $11.5 million in the fund for the 2019-20 budget.

If adopted, the budget would cut operating expense funding for Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Kannapolis City Schools but add more funding to charter schools. The 2020-21 budget specifically proposes a cut of $363,918 to RSS and $24,105 to KCS while allocating $747,694 in new funding to local charter schools.

The operating expense additions and subtractions are based on estimates for the average daily memberships. It’s projected RSS will lose 22 students, KCS will gain one student and charter schools will gain 391 students.

Heidrick said the large increase in charter schools funding is due, in part, to an understatement of average daily memberships in 2020. The count grew from 329 in 2020 to 715 students for 2020-21.

Commissioner Judy Klusman asked Church if funding for students who are counted among the charter and homeschool count follow them if they move back to public schools. Heidrick said that funding is distributed to charter schools via RSS and KCS. Each month, charter schools are required to submit counts to the schools to be allocated funding based the count. Therefore, the funding wouldn’t continue the following month if a student were to transfer to RSS or KCS.

Both RSS and KCS could take a hit to their capital outlay funding in the amount of $421,022 and $28,978, respectively, based on current sales tax projections.

Additionally, the proposed budget would continue an annual transfer to the West End Plaza Capital Projects Fund in the amount of $1.4 million, which would bring that fund’s total to $4.27 million.

“We can only hope and pray that things will improve,” Church said.

Following the presentation, state law requires the board to publish a statement that the budget has been submitted to the governing board and is available for inspection. The statement will also include notice for the time and place of the budget public hearing.

When voting to schedule the public hearing, the board can consider rules that regulate the length of comment for each speaker addressing the board, as well as restricting comments to the subject of the hearing as advertised.

Other items at the meeting:

• Commissioners added an item to the consent agenda and approved a request from the county Emergency Management Division to apply for a matching grant, called the Emergency Management Performance Grant — COVID-19, for use in the county’s COVID-19 response. The matching requirement would use existing budgeted funds for the request to obtain equipment that would allow for telework/distancing of emergency management personnel and equipment compatible with the newly released telework platform.

• Commissioners approved financing the purchase of 21 vehicles — one vehicle for the Animal Services Department, one vehicle for the Rowan Public Library, one vehicle for the Facilities Management Department, 16 vehicles for the county Rowan Sheriff’s Office and two ambulances for the Emergency Services Department. The amount to be financed is $1 million over a three-year term. The county Finance Department recommended the board accepted the bid from U.S. Bancorp Government Leasing and Finance, Inc., which offers an interest rate of 1.53% that results in $25,776 worth of interest costs.

• The board scheduled a special meeting for May 27 at 3 p.m. to discuss and adopt a plan to be submitted to the state regarding a potential amount of nearly $2.6 million as part of the Coronavirus Relief Fund funneled from the state.

• Following a public hearing conducted by Planning Director Ed Muire to approve the FY 2020-21 HOME Funding Action Plan, the board approved entering into a contract with the Salisbury Community Development Corporation, which will administer the program. The 2020-21 program anticipates the rehabilitation of five owner occupied, single-family units that will require $178,260 in funding.

• Commissioners approved a request from the Rowan Public Library to apply for a grant from the State Library, which is providing counties with “mini-grants” to help libraries reopen to the public.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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