BEAUFORT — The Carteret County Board of Commissioners adopted a 2-cent property tax increase as part of the fiscal year 2020-21 budget, approved by the board Monday evening.
The increase brings the tax rate to 33 cents per $100 of assessed property value, up from 31 cents. The adopted budget totals $123.1 million across all funds.
County commissioners considered the plan during the board’s regular meeting Monday in the commissioners’ boardroom of the administration complex in Beaufort. County staff said it was one of the most difficult budgets they’ve ever had to prepare because of the financial impacts of the novel coronavirus and the resultant economic slowdown.
“Our staff has worked through this, this is probably the most challenging budget I know that I’ve had since I’ve been here, and I think (County Finance Director Dee Meshaw) would agree,” County Manager Tommy Burns said.
The county held the required public hearing on the budget June 1, during which nobody spoke. Commissioners cleared up a few lingering questions about the plan Monday evening before voting unanimously to adopt the budget. The new fiscal year begins Wednesday, July 1.
Several commissioners said while they didn’t necessarily want to raise taxes, the increase was necessary this year to maintain services at their current level. The increase is the first since 2016-17, when the rate increased from 30 to 31 cents. The county still has the lowest property tax rate in North Carolina.
“We have held the tax up to this point, I’ve been proud of it,” Commissioner Robin Comer said. “…It seems like we’ve been hit from left and right, left and right the past couple years with storms and now COVID, and that all has an effect on our income and expenses.”
The county anticipates at least a $1.5 million revenue shortfall due to COVID-19 next fiscal year, including about $800,000 in lost sales tax revenue and about $700,000 in investment earnings. Also, Ms. Meshaw noted the county is still waiting on about $3.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement money to replenish the county’s fund balance.
The adopted $123,162,935 budget represents a 23.64% decrease, about $38 million, over the 2019-20 amended fiscal year budget. The county says the decrease is due to the completion of several big-ticket capital projects in the past year, including phase two of a beach nourishment project, land acquisition, dredging efforts and school capital needs.
The budget breaks down to about $99 million in the general fund, $18.3 million for the special revenue fund, $4.6 million in the capital project fund and $1.1 million for the enterprise fund.
Based on the current assessed property valuation of $16.54 billion and a 33-cent tax rate, the county will generate a projected $53.42 million in revenue, about 55% of the general fund budget. Other major sources of revenue include sales tax, projected at $16.4 million; intergovernmental revenue, $14.12 million; permits, fees, sales and services, $7.56 million; and investment earning, $450,000.
Education is the single largest source of expenditures in the general fund budget at $28.8 million, about 29% of the fund. Debt service for the school system totals an additional $4.73 million. The education budget funds operations and capital needs of the county’s public school system, including pass-through funds for charter schools, and also allocates about $2.67 million for Carteret Community College.
The county’s second largest expenditure is for human services, including social services, public health, mental health and other human services. The human services budget is $18.79 million, with $11.59 million for social services, $5.12 million in public health and $2.08 million in other human services.
The budget also increased funding for the information technology, human resources, tax and register of deeds departments, with IT and tax seeing the most significant increases. The increase in IT can be attributed to the library system becoming a county department and for equipment upgrades.
Public safety expenditures total $15.47 million, about 15.6% of the general fund budget. That is up about $418,000 over the current fiscal year, with most of the increase going toward personnel and contracted services for the detention center.
The transportation budget increased, as well, with funding included for new Carteret County Area Transit System vehicles. The vehicles are 90% grant-funded. The increase is also due to two part-time drivers moving to full-time positions.
The county plans a cost-of-living pay adjustment for employees toward the end of 2020. Also, the budget funds 28 new positions, the majority of which are for the Carteret County Public Library System.
Last year, the county decided to pull out of the regional library system, so the positions it funded through its annual contribution will now come under the county’s payroll.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.