A declining population in Sampson County has led to a shrinking tax base and anticipated revenue, which, combined with inflation and supply chain issues, has left the county at a serious crossroads. The county administration said the seriousness of the situation meant a proposed 5-cent tax hike in the 2022-23 budget to maintain services and not regress into past problems.
A public hearing on the draft budget will take place during the meeting of the board of directors this Monday, June 6, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Departmental Auditorium.
The board tentatively scheduled two budget sessions, at 10 a.m. on June 9 and June 16, to continue budget deliberations, but wanted to hear from the public first. These sessions will take place in the conference room of the county administration building.
County Manager Ed Causey presented the plan to the Sampson Board of Commissioners last month.
Given what he called “bold initiatives and significant accomplishments” — salary adjustments and infrastructure funding among them — Causey said county administrative staff found themselves beginning the budget-making process. this year with fixed expenses increased by approximately $2.4 million over last year’s budget, but revenues increased by only $2,432,844.
“This does not include increased operating costs due to inflation and supply chain challenges,” Causey said. “Thus, we are asking for a tax increase of 5 cents.”
The tax rate for the current budget is 82.5 cents per $100 of assessment, so the proposed increase would bring that rate to 87.5 cents.
Departmental requests for 2022-23 have already been reduced by about $7 million, Causey said.
“We don’t believe we can further reduce projected costs without hurting programs,” said the county executive, who offered additional “historical perspective” with his budget message. “My current budget recommendations are shaped by this historical perspective and my experience-based concern that we do not need to return to the county’s position of 20 years ago with overwhelming pent-up needs that worsen our fiscal situation. Pent-up needs include both physical and human infrastructure.
All employees have received at least a 12.1% pay increase in the past year, Causey said, noting that the percentage increase for many employees is even higher when the $675,000 allocated for bringing wages back to the midpoint of the year are taken into account.
The Board of Commissioners has approved an additional 5% salary increase for all employees which will come into effect last January. At the same time, the board voted not to consider another COLA or salary increase until the end of market research, which is expected to begin in July 2022.
“This action was taken before a potential 5-cent increase was offered,” Causey said. “Similarly, if the BOC is concerned about the cost of fully implementing the proposed market study, it is recommended that this planned study be delayed for one year. When we recommended payment of the 2.1% bonus to be paid last year, that bonus would have put us on par with inflation through 2020. Technically, we were nearly 3% ahead until until the Consumer Price Index of 7.5% is determined for 2021. on CPIs, we are now about 4.5% behind.
The number of permanent staff at the time of last year’s budget message was 553. During the year, the Board of Commissioners added six paramedics and an environmental health trainee, bringing the number to 560. Additional positions, recommended as part of the proposed 2022-23 budget, would bring that number to the end of the year.
County administrative staff proposed as part of the 2022-23 budget to: convert the part-time DSS employee to a full-time employee; add a juvenile officer for the sheriff’s department; hire four carriers to be hired from January 2023; and add an EMS Deputy Chief.
In his budget message, the county executive attested that if the county chooses to defer capital reserve deposits — he has regularly set aside $450,000 a year — “we will re-examine the challenges of pent-up need with which the county has struggled for many years and has not completely resolved, and will further aggravate our cash flow problems in the future.
The county projects an increase in sales tax revenue of just $1 million.
“As we review the proposed budget for fiscal year 22-23, we have a revenue shortfall,” Causey said. “We need to increase our revenue by about $2,500,000. We do not think this can be done solely by reductions / postponements of operations. The only other real option is to redefine county government and the services that are provided. If the council chooses to redefine government by cutting services, it will be difficult to achieve this without looking closely at the large departments/groups that receive significant fiscal support.
He pointed to many of those departments whose budgets are increasing, including the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, whose budget is again proposed to increase.
According to Causey, the total budget for the sheriff’s department, including the detention center, is $14,392,653. The combined expenditures proposed for the department have increased by $894,333 over the past year. “Last year, we reported that their total expenses had increased by 62% over the past 10 years,” Causey said in his budget message.
It is expected to increase by an additional 6.2% if the proposed budget is approved.
“We understand that everyone would rather not have a tax increase,” the county executive said. “The general fund will likely reflect a decline this year due to the necessary additional expenditures that were approved during the budget year. We also recognize that inflation and supply chain issues will continue to have an impact that cannot be fully and accurately estimated.Therefore, we sincerely and professionally believe that the proposed 5-cent tax increase is the appropriate measure for the long-term financial health of Sampson County and our many programs and partners. important.”
Causey noted that 20 cents attributed to county debts cause the tax rate to be as high as it is.
“You can derive a budget that doesn’t include a tax increase,” Causey offered. “This will likely involve deferring some spending and drawing more from the general fund. This is not recommended if one is looking to prevent history from repeating itself. If you get by this year without a tax increase, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get by next year without a tax increase.
The proposed budget for 2022-23 is available at sampsonnc.com.
Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.