The Lincoln County FY2021 budget was revealed in more detail at a meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Monday evening. The budget, which balances at $112,848,445 breaks down into expenditures and revenues as follows:
- General Government $14,691,212
- Public Safety (Animal Services, EMS, Sheriff, Building Inspections, etc.) $32,988,009
- Transportation $1,650,097
- Economic Development $2,115,250
- Human Services $19,669,234
- Cultural and Recreation $3,132,336
- Education $22,236,922
- Debt Service $16,365,385
- Ad Valorem Taxes/VTS/Sales Tax/Utilities Tax/Medicaid Hold Harmless $87,077,173
- Federal Revenues $8,230,500
- State Revenues $2,159,320
- Intergovernmental Revenues $923,000
- Other Taxes and Licenses $800,000
- Sales and Services $9,271,202
- Investment Earnings $250,000
- Miscellaneous $861,688
- Other Financing Sources $735,000
- Fund Balance Appropriated $2,540,562
“We started down a path back in September,” Lincoln County Manager Kelly Atkins said. “I think everybody was really comfortable watching our revenues coming in nicely. Everything was running smooth. I was looking very favorably at a lot of those expenses because of the revenues. Unfortunately, something called COVID-19 happened and it took us all by storm. It’s going to wreak havoc on us for a while. It’s likely not something that’s going to be short-lived.”
We’re having to utilize $2.5 million from the fund balance just to balance this budget, Atkins added. There are reductions in the budget that Atkins said would normally never happen.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “This isn’t a popular budget but it’s one that had to be very carefully thought through.”
During the budget presentation, Commissioner Milton Sigmon commended the finance department for renegotiating some of the county’s indebtedness to get interest rates down.
“I want the citizens to know that,” he said. “Within the last three months, there’s been between $400,000 and $500,000 savings in interest alone. Banks renegotiated for a lower rate because they wanted our business.”
Bud Cesena commented on the fund balance and how if it wasn’t where it is today, there’d be “big trouble.”
“I’m proud of the fact that we had the foresight to get it where it needs to be,” he said. “We don’t have to raise taxes. We don’t have to raise fees. We’re okay because of that fund balance.”
Atkins agreed with Cesena’s assessment.
“Fund balances are one of those things that people see as a pot of gold sitting there and they can’t wait to spend it down,” he said. “When I became county manager, that fund balance was roughly about $14 million. Today it’s $26.1 million. Yes, we’re going to use some of it this coming year. We’ve got some rainy days coming.”
Commissioners will be taking another look at the budget the first quarter of FY21 year (November). If further adjustments are needed, the commissions have the authority to amend the budget.
“We’re watching the revenues closely and additional reductions may have to take place or if revenues come in stronger than we anticipate, we can amend the budget positively,” Atkins said in an earlier interview with Times-News. “I think every county and city around us is experiencing very similar expectations as far as revenues and having to make changes or reductions where they normally wouldn’t. That’s what you do in unknown or uncertain economic times.”
In light of the projected reduced revenue stream, new county employee requests will be frozen until January 2021. Most capital will be frozen until January 2021 as well. County employees pay increases are frozen until January 2021 and those that currently participate in the PPO (health plan) will have to increase their contribution to the increased cost of the plan.
Funding to several outside agencies has been cut completely from the budget. Those agencies are Hesed House of Hope ($10,000), Eastern Lincoln Historical Society ($31,000) and Thunder Over Carolina ($10,000). Funding to the Lincoln County Historical Association was reduced to $41,000. There will be a phased reduction in funding in Communities in School, receiving $55,000 FY 21, $25,000 in FY 22 and $0 in FY23.
Both Lincoln County Schools superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow and Lincoln Charter School Chief Administrator Jonathan Bryant spoke on behalf of their students and the need for funding by the county. Lincoln County Schools requested a total of $27,464,520 (this includes a local appropriation to Lincoln County charter schools) but will be receiving 5% less than what they received in FY20. Teachers, limited to those in classrooms in front of students, will receive a 2% supplemental increase, $21,946,968.
A member of the board of Hesed House of Hope, Debbie Wooten, appealed to the board to reconsider cutting Hesed House’s funding in the amount of $10,000 from the budget. A Denver resident spoke requesting Carrol Mitchem’s resignation from the board for opening his restaurant in violation of N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order.
There will be a public hearing on the budget at June 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln County Administration Office at 353 North Generals Boulevard in Lincolnton on the budget.