Buncombe commissioners preview: Balancing the budget

The roughly $337 million Buncombe County budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 avoids any property-tax increases, relying instead on $8.3 in reserve funds and an improving economy. The May 15 meeting of the board of commissioners will feature County Manager Wanda Greene’s initial presentation of the proposal; a public hearing is set for June 5.

The budget holds funding for most departments at roughly last year’s levels, “except in the core, mandated services that are experiencing case-load growth,” writes Greene in her budget message to the commissioners.

However, the proposal calls for increasing overall spending by about 1 percent over last year. The increase is mostly due to a loss of federal funding for mandated social services ($2.5 million); federal requirements for upgrading radio systems ($700,000); fuel-cost increases for vehicles and utilities ($400,000); economic incentives ($2.5 million); election expenses ($700,000); reappraisal ($200,000); and infrastructure investments in public safety facilities and the Civic Center ($640,000 and $340,000), according to Greene.

The county property tax rate has been set at 52.5 cents per $100 valuation since 2006, when it was cut from 53 cents. Unlike last year, when the county cut costs by eliminating 93 staff positions, this year’s proposal calls for no major staff reductions.

The proposed $8.3 in reserve funds is an increase over last year’s plan to tap $7.9 million. However, last year — as well as every year since 2003 — the county managed to avoid spending those reserve funds, recouping that amount throughout the year with various cost-cutting initiatives. Greene said she expects the county to be able to do the same during the upcoming fiscal year.

The budget also relies in part on projected revenue increases, with Greene citing improvement in certain sections of the economy. She anticipates an 0.8 percent increase in property tax revenue based on some growth in the assessed values, as well as improved collections. Greene also budgeted in a 6 percent increase in sales tax revenue, based on rising collections over the last 12 months.

In additional business, the May 15 meeting will feature a presentation on a five-year county sustainability plan that sets a wide variety of goals, from improvements in workforce development and education to land preservation and multimodal transit.

The board will meet at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 15, in the commissioners’ chambers, located at 30 Valley St. A short pre-meeting review of the agenda will begin at 4:15 p.m.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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