Catawba County’s recommended annual budget would be 25% more than the current budget, but the county property tax rate wouldn’t change under the county manager’s recommendation.
The growth in spending is largely due to school construction.
County Manager Mick Berry’s recommended fiscal year 2021-22 budget, which begins July 1, is $303.9 million. He presented the budget to the Catawba County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
A large chunk of the increase comes from $41.5 million in school renovations. Newton-Conover High School’s renovation accounts for $18 million, construction of the new Maiden Elementary School will cost $19.5 million and various Hickory Public Schools elementary school additions account for another $4 million, according to the recommended budget.
The county was awarded a $10 million N.C. Department of Public Instruction grant for the Newton-Conover project. The county would borrow money to pay for the remaining $31.5 million of construction.
The federal American Rescue Plan Act could change the budget. The county expects to be allotted about $108 million in COVID-19 recovery funding, including about $60 million for schools. The allowable uses for much of the funding isn’t clear yet but some is meant for infrastructure. Construction of a new school could fall under that umbrella.
No rescue plan funding was included in the recommended budget but some could be added before the commissioners approve the final budget at the end of June, Berry said.
The county’s general budget, which does not include capital projects or water and sewer, would grow 4.9 percent to $210.5 million under Berry’s recommended budget.
The growth is driven by an expected increase in revenue from property and sales tax in the coming fiscal year, but the property tax rate will remain at 57.5 cents per $100 of value. Property tax is assessed on homes, land and vehicles.
The county’s property tax income is expected to rise by about 3 percent to $108.7 million, Berry said. Sales tax revenue is projected to grow by 13 percent to $33.7 million in the recommended budget.
“It’s a very positive forecast,” Berry said. “Our community has weathered the pandemic very well. … The focus on growing and expanding our businesses was a key piece of that (property tax growth) and here is where you see those initiatives and those efforts actually play into the county budget.”
In addition to property and sales tax, the county receives millions in state and federal money and draws revenue from various fees, such as permits.
The proposed budget also includes employee raises of 3 percent for effective performance and 3.5 percent for top county government performers.
The proposed budget includes the addition of six new full-time employees. Two school nurses, one public health administrative assistant, one environmental health specialist, one building services official and one permit center role would be added.
The budget also recommends eliminating six full-time and one part-time positions that are not filled.
There is money included in the proposed budget to replace 18 sheriff’s office vehicles and four ambulances.
The budget includes $1.2 million for economic development, $100,000 for general facility renovations and another $600,000 toward a $1.7 million project to replace the roof on the Catawba County Justice Center.
In the solid waste capital fund, $1 million would go toward closing cells at two landfills.
New water and sewer district
Projects in the county’s new Southeastern Catawba County Water and Sewer District account for over $6 million in spending.
One project would extend water in the southern end of the county along N.C. Highway 16 at the price of $2.5 million, according to Berry’s recommended budget. A $2.7 million project would upgrade a water pump station in the Sherrills Ford area.
About $679,000 is allotted for operation of the new district. Another $250,000 would be set aside for a future expansion of the Hickory-Catawba waste water treatment plant.
Fire tax will go up in 3 districts
The proposed budget includes an increase in fire taxes in three districts.
Mountain View’s fire service district tax would increase from 7.18 cents per $100 of property value to 9 cents. The money would pay for a pumper and tanker and some money would be set aside for future land purchases.
Claremont would increase from 11 cents to 12 cents to pay for medical first response in the area’s rural district.
The Newton district would increase from 13 cents to 15 cents to pay for six positions in the department previously paid for with a grant.
The board of commissioners will hear from county departments, schools and outside agencies on the budget on June 10. On June 15, the county will hold a public hearing on the budget.