BEAUFORT — Carteret County Manager Tommy Burns submitted to county commissioners Monday night a proposed 2023-24 budget that calls for a one-cent increase in the property tax rate, from 33 cents to 34 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The budget presentation was during the commissioners’ monthly meeting in the administration building on Courthouse Square and online via the county’s Facebook page.
The recommended budget is $124.05 million, a 1.8% decrease from the $126.32 million amended 2022-23 budget, which expires June 30.
The tax increase would increase the county tax bill for a property valued at $200,000 from $660 in the current fiscal year to $680 in 2023-24.
County Finance Director and Assistant County Manager Dee Meshaw briefed the proposed budget for the board and the public.
She termed the proposal as an effort to “maintain services” and budget conservatively.
In his written budget message, Burns said the proposal is a “continuation budget with exceptions in some areas such as elections, information technology, public safety, social services departments, Carteret Community College and public education.”
The property tax, based on a total property valuation of $17.18 is expected to generate $57.52 million or 47.35% of the general fund (operating) budget.
“Carteret County’s tax rate continues to be the second lowest tax rate in North Carolina,” Burns said in his budget message.
The sales tax is expected to generate $23.30 million, a $2 .7 million increase over 2022-23.
“Sales revenue is challenging to budget,” Burns said in his budget message. “It is a revenue stream that fluctuates with the economy and particularly with individuals’ disposable income. The county’s occupancy tax revenue is approximately 4.1% more than last year, and increased tourism has a significant impact on sales tax revenue. For the last two fiscal years, sales tax revenues have been underestimated, and this recommended budget aligns the budget projection more with actual revenue. Sales tax revenue is 18.7% of general fund revenue.
Meshaw, in her presentation, said part of the reason for the projected increase in sales tax revenue is inflation, which makes the goods and services consumers pay for cost more, thus generating more tax revenue.
Burns’ message also mentioned the impact of inflation.
“As part of the budget development process, staff conducted a review of departmental operations and service delivery,” he wrote. “Through this review and due to two years of inflationary impacts, it was determined that a majority of operating expenditures needed increasing to provide the same level of service. Some services, such as public safety and education are expanded in the recommended budget. The recommended budget continues its emphasis on technology. Resources are funded in the information technology department for security, program licenses, subscriptions, equipment and redundancy. Funding these items is critical for continuity of operations. In addition to information technology, implementing and improving technology programs continues in the register of deeds, human resources, and tax departments. Tax department continues its software implementation for property appraisal, tax billings and collections.
As for public safety, Burns proposed $22.51 million or 18.15% of the general fund, $2.05 million more than the final 2022-23 total.
“The Emergency Services Division has the largest increase, $1.39 million with $1.24 million in paramedic services,” he said. “Of the $1.24 million additional paramedic services, $.88 million is attributed to the county providing services for EMS service districts. The recommended budget implements the Fire and EMS Commission’s recommendation the county provide EMS service to Otway EMS service district. Six positions are recommended in the budget to accomplish providing the service, and the expenditures are offset by special district taxes and fees. In addition, the county currently provides EMS service to Broad and Gales Creek EMS service district. Due to increased service demand, an additional paramedic for the Broad and Gales Creek service area is recommended. This position is funded by Broad and Gales Creek district taxes and fees.”
Other emergency services increases are in the county paramedic department (separate from district EMS services) and consolidated communications for personnel and maintenance expenses. The sheriff division has increases in personnel and contracted services such as inmate medical care and inmate feeding services. Traditionally, one of the most significant challenges in public safety is the high rate of staffing turnover in the sheriff’s division and consolidated communications department. The county continues to fund capital vehicles and equipment for public safety, Burns wrote.
Meshaw said the budget would pay for two additional county-funded paramedics in the western end of the county. In addition, there would be one new district-funded paramedic at the Broad and Gales Creek Department, which the county took over in 2022, three district-funded paramedics for the Otway department and three district-funded EMT basics for Otway.
The sheriff’s department would get one new detective and a records custodian.
The social services department would also get new employees to help deal with the state’s expansion of the Medicaid program.
Burns wrote that the public school system and Carteret Community College is the largest service area in expenditures. Education operating and capital outlay expenditures account for $33.48 million, 26.99% of the county’s total budget.
Carteret County Public School System, including charter schools, recommended operating funding is $27.42 million, a 3.81% increase from the final 2022-23 budget.
The recommended budget provides $2.1 million capital funding for the school system, the same as the adopted 2022-23 budget.
Under the proposal, Carteret Community College’s operating funding is increased to $3.16 million.
“Also,” Burns said, “the recommended budget funds $800,000 capital funding, and an additional $200,000 is budgeted to transfer to a capital fund for future capital building needs. The county will hold these funds in a separate capital fund until a project is approved by the community college board of trustees and the county board of commissioners."
The budget would also fund a county internet security specialist and a parks maintenance worker.
Meshaw said the budget provides funds for merit raises for deserving employees, as well as cost-of-living raises for the first time in several years.
“We have a high (employee) turnover rate,” she said. “Thirty-five percent of our employees have less than two years. It’s a statewide problem.”
During the meeting Monday night, Burns said he views this budget as “pivotal,” holding the line on expenditures as major expenses are looming, such as a new jail and a new emergency services radio system.
He said he was most concerned about submitting a “sustainable” budget in light of those needs that are pending in the next few years.
Commissioners made no comments on the proposed budget after the presentation. The required public hearing on the proposed budget will be Monday, June 5. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. The budget must be adopted by Friday, June 30.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.
The occupancy tax goes to the sand and tourism slush fund, when the economy tanks as it does on a regular cycle, that sales tax revenue will be diminished. Fear not citizens yet another tax increase will not effect our commissioners, they will just raise the rents in their " rv parks" to maintain THEIR standard of living.
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