6-15-2022 – Commissioners approve county budget

Posted on: June 15th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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June 15, 2022

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By CADY DAVIS CDAVIS@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

June 14, 2022

 

LENOIR — During the Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, June 13, County Manager Donald Duncan presented the county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022-23. This budget will begin Friday, July 1.

 

“The commissioners have created a stable revenue to maintain long-term reserves and most importantly, reduce the need for future commissioners to borrow money to pay interest,” Duncan said. “We enter 2022-2023 fiscal year optimistically.”

 

In regards to economic development, activity during the pandemic actually increased substantially as the global supply chain became disrupted and more companies looked to domestic sourcing. Manufacturing communities like those in Catawba Valley have flourished, as more people relocated to suburban and ex-urban areas. The need for home furnishings and materials grew exponentially. Business tourism floundered during the pandemic, and domestic and global travel was suspended, but now have rebounded to greater than pre-pandemic levels. Occupancy taxes in Caldwell County have more than doubled since 2017.

 

“These funds are reinvested in the Chamber [of Commerce] and the EDC to assist in the growing economy,” said Duncan.

 

The Economic Development Commission has successfully repurposed many empty buildings for new businesses since 2012, reclaiming over 6 million square feet of industrial space.

 

Moreover, there has been record growth in building and environmental permits.

 

“Despite the pandemic, development in Caldwell County has continued at a robust pace,” Duncan said. “All sectors have experienced expansion in industrial development.”

 

The county’s tax rate will remain at 63 cents per $100 valuation.

 

The revenues from the General Fund were estimated conservatively at $46 million, assuming a 97% collection rate. The total assessed levy is nearly $7.6 billion, which is up $70 million in growth from last year.

 

In 2020-2021, staff returned $1.8 million to the fund balance after borrowing about $6 million. In 2021-2022, staff estimate to return around $5 million.

 

The proposed budget for 2022-2023 includes a $4.8 million unreserved general fund balance appropriation. New revenue this year included a conservative 5% increase in sales tax and a projected 5% increase in sales tax. Moreover, new revenue will be generated from the landfill gasification system at Foothills Regional Landfill.

 

This budget continues with the salary study implemented in January 2022 for the full fiscal year.

 

“Caldwell County commissioners have ensured staff has the resources needed to fulfill our obligations to citizens,” said Duncan.

 

This budget also begins the Merit Pay system. Upon employees’ anniversary date and annual review, employees will be eligible for a Merit I increase of $1,000, and exceptional employees can earn Merit II for $1,000 added to their base pay.

 

“The focus of Merit Pay is to continue to improve the lives of our front-line employees,” Duncan said.

 

The budget provides the sheriff’s office with $345,000 for new body cameras. These body-worn cameras will coordinate with their in-car cameras that have license plate reader technology built in. These are valuable in protecting officers’ lives, fair and equitable treatment of our citizens, and the return of stolen property or helping find a missing person.”

 

“These cameras essentially pay for themselves and reduce law enforcement liability in the use of force claims,” Duncan said.

 

Register of Deeds Wayne Rash has proposed adding the U.S. passport program to his office and charging a nominal fee to provide for this service without the dynamic employment market.

 

The utility fund requires additional contracting services and staff in order to keep up with demand. Staff has requested two additional employees to implement a valve exercising program, hydrant testing, and back-flow prevention.

 

“Ongoing maintenance and inspections keep our systems from failing or falling into a state of disrepair, keeping basic life-giving services and clean water affordable,” said Duncan. “I recommend improving operations and maintenance inside the utility fund. The system is well-managed, and now we must turn to an eye to the future.”

 

Duncan said the county’s main focus should be on water storage pressure tank maintenance and repair replacement of substandard lines. The list of capital improvements is substantial and expensive but much needed.

 

“Another thing that I recommend in this pro-utility fund program is to have a comprehensive rate study done so the county can plan for future growth of its system,” Duncan said.

 

The total budget amounts to roughly $119 million. The general fund is $93 million, the education fund to the community college and the public school system is $18.8 million, and the utility fund is $7.7 million.

 

“In conclusion, this year’s budget is based upon your direction, the county’s long-range plans, and input received from our citizens throughout the year,” Duncan said. “The budget features added attentions that will make us competitive in this economic environment, addresses regulatory changes, and will make us competitive throughout all of our levels of service. Caldwell’s budget focuses on essential human services and is our best effort to predict future needs. It builds on past decisions and looks optimistically to the future.”

 

While the county’s tax rate stays put, some Caldwell residents will see a higher fire tax. Requested increases included Granite Falls Fire (14.65), Kings Creek (8.35), and Patterson Fire Rescue (12.95). These increases were requested mainly for additional personnel as volunteerism has dropped statewide.

 

The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the county’s budget for fiscal year 2022-23 as presented.

 

In other news, Deborah Murray, executive director for the Economic Development Commission, presented a proposal for a Local Jobs Incentive for FleetGenius, an environmental solutions company, which recently acquired the industrial containers manufacturing business Bakers Waste in Lenoir.

 

The Local Jobs Incentive requests a dramatic expansion to the company by adding 120 news jobs at $2,000 per job to be created over the next year. The company’s jobs pay on average equal or more to county’s average, which is roughly $43,000.

 

Andreas Gruson, owner of FleetGenius, was in attendance and spoke to the commissioners about his excitement for the Lenoir facility and workforce.

 

“It’s been a tremendous six months that we’ve owned it,” said Gruson, “and we’ve seen a lot of positivity and excitement. We grew FleetGenius from about 100 employees three years ago to today, we’ve got 600 employees. Our intent is to to the same thing in Lenoir … Our goal is to expand the coverage of this plant, and bring Lenoir’s finest to the rest of the country.”

 

The board approved the Local Jobs Incentive unanimously.

 

Moreover, the commissioners approved Josh Angle’s appointment as the Caldwell County Tax Administrator.

 

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