A presentation of the fiscal year 2020 budget was jointly presented by Lincoln County manager Kelly Atkins, program manager Josh Grant, finance director Deanna Rios and Crystal Watson, finance control, at the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners meeting on May 20.
A five-year capital improvement plan has been incorporated into the budget. The total anticipated five year capital needs amount is $133.6 million with the bulk of the amount (42 percent) slated for water and sewer improvements. There are numerous capital projects in progress including the new West Lincoln Library, Optimist Club Convenience Site, the Citizens Center Auditorium.
“We have a lot of capital projects which began in 2018,” Atkins said to the board. “Remember one of the reasons why we have so many is the fact that for many, many years, no capital projects were done which put us way behind so we’re trying to catch up.”
Potential future projects include the courthouse with an estimated cost of $40 million to begin in 2020, a jail expansion with an estimated cost of $9 million also to begin in 2020, an EMS/EM/FM Back-up PSAP for an estimated cost of $10.5 million to begin in 2020 and an animal services center to begin in 2021 for an estimated cost of $4 million.
The 2020 general fund projected total is $107.7 million with the largest amount of that fund (30.48 percent) going to Lincoln County Schools. The next largest slices are for public safety – the sheriff and jail at 14.23 percent, Department of Social Services at 10.37 percent and EMS at 6.77 percent.
“Our percentage of expenditures to schools is not uncommon throughout the state,” Atkins told the board. “I would argue that in most counties, the largest percent of general funds goes to the local school system. Average daily membership is on an uptick so I don’t anticipate school needs going down anytime soon.”
For 2020, Lincoln County Schools operating and capital budget is estimated to be $24 million, which is the most it’s ever been. This breaks out to $19.6 million for current expenses, $4.4 million for school capital expenses for a subtotal of $24 million. School debt expense is almost $9.5 million for a total school expense of just over $33.5 million.
The county’s estimated debt service is slightly down from FY 2019, which was $13 million to almost $12.8 million for 2020. When compared to other adjacent counties, Lincoln County’s debt for capita runs in the mid-range. However, Lincoln County’s debt for capita is higher than Caldwell, Cleveland and Burke, which are similar in size to Lincoln County.
It is anticipated that the tax rate will remain at $.611 per $100.
“Our tax rate hasn’t been above .62 for 19 years now,” Atkins said. “That’s pretty phenomenal. I spoke with Mick Berry (county manager) at Catawba County last week because he was curious about what we were doing with our revaluation as he is also going through a revaluation. I told him that it appeared as though the commissioners, unless they changed their mind, were going to hold the rate at .611. They too are going to hold their tax rate at .607 with very similar results from what I understand.”
The proposed budget for water and sewer is $11 million. As of July 1, water rates will increase by 5 percent and sewer rates by 15 percent. The proposed fire district tax rates will remain the same for all districts except for East Lincoln, which will increase from 8.90 to 9.80 and Howard’s Creek 12.233 to 13.55.
There will be a public hearing on the budget on June 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Also at the meeting, the commissioners approved an inter-local cooperation agreement between the City of Lincolnton and Lincoln County for shared services including Information Technology, Facilities Maintenance and offering of real property in consideration for payment of services rendered and “in-city” water/sewer rates for county owned property outside city limits.
An Industrial Incentive Grant was approved by the commissioners to be awarded to Tenowo Inc. in the amount $4,500,000 for building and equipment expansion at their Indian Creek Industrial Park location.