The Sampson Board of Commissioners on Wednesday concluded one of the most expeditious budgetary processes in recent history with a few minutes of reflection and a unanimous adoption at the tail end of a short recessed meeting.
A $60 million fiscal plan for the next year of Sampson County operations was formally adopted, with the first year of a plan to save $5 million for economic development efforts put into place. The county will utilize $1.5 million previously designated for loan reserves as the foundation for the Economic Development Reserve, while also adding $250,000 for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The General Fund totals $60,114,090, up 1.3 percent from the adopted 2017-18 budget, which totaled $59,337,634. The amended General Fund currently stands at $60,314,046, about $200,000 over the 2018-19 proposal.
While the county budgeted for upticks in tax collections and sales tax revenues to the tune of $1.5 million last year — prompting the property tax rate to drop a half-cent to the current 82.5 cents per $100 valuation — significant increases in revenues are not expected in the coming year, county officials said. The tax rate will stay at 82.5 cents.
Prior to the budget’s adoption Wednesday, Finance officer David Clack briefly reviewed the Economic Development Reserve.
”The Economic Development Reserve is intended as a tool to provide funding for select economic development projects designated by the board as vital to overall financial stability of Sampson County,” Clack stated. “It is the intention of the board that the funds in the reserve be used to leverage state and federal grant funds that will be used to purchase property for industrial sites and develop needed infrastructure that will enhance our ability to attract industry to the county.”
It is the county’s hope, he said, that funds will be added to the reserve “until at least $5 million” has been accumulated. County manager Ed Causey has proposed $250,000 installments each year. Funding the reserve fund may not yield significant revenue returns in the short term, Causey noted, but it was vital to develop a sustained and long‐term commitment for the fund.
The Board of Commissioners will have final approval of any expenditures from the reserve.
Following Clack’s brief overview, Board of Commissioners chairman Clark Wooten asked for a motion. Commissioner Harry Parker made the motion and his fellow Democrat Thaddeus Godwin seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous.
“I believe this is the beginning of laying the groundwork for Sampson County to move forward to attract industry,” Wooten said. “Things like this take time. We hope it goes fast, but this crew may not see the fruits of what we’ve started here. The people that served before us took a bold move on the Enviva property … and in the last budget we saw those fruits and how impactful that could be for this county and its citizens.”
While no other commissioner offered comment on the budget at Wednesday’s session, Commissioner Jerol Kivett previously touted the fund as a “great idea,” pointing out the tax revenues generated from the establishment of Enviva.
“The only other revenue generator is property taxes, and I don’t think there is a soul in here that wants to pay more property taxes,” Kivett has said. “We have the largest county in the state and there is a big demand on a small population. Our tax rate is higher than any contiguous county.”
On Wednesday, Wooten expressed his gratitude to the board for its willingness to move forward and praised county administrative staff for the formulation of a budget he said was “fiscally responsible with that kind of foresight in it.”
“I applaud all of you and I thank all of you,” Wooten said.
Causey said the budget’s adoption on June 13 is one of the earliest dates many longtime staffers can recall any fiscal plan for the county being approved.
“In talking to some of my cohorts, this might be the earliest they ever remember a budget being approved for Sampson County,” said Causey, who has served as manager since 2010. “That is also an accomplishment that the commissioners should be proud of.”
For the better part of the last decade, the county has been divided over some line items that have often led to extended budget workshops, interim budgets and split approvals.
The three budgets that preceded Wednesday’s — 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 — were approved in June, with the vote for 2016-17’s budget coming nearly as early, at June 15, 2016, and one of only two budgets in an eight-year span leading up to this week to receive a unanimous 5-0 vote. The three years before that — 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 — extensive budget deliberations forced the county to operate under an interim budget and adoptions didn’t come until well into July, with 2014-15’s adoption pushed until July 28.
That wasn’t the case this time around.
In fact, there were no formal budget deliberations after the budget was unveiled by Causey last month. He presented the proposed 2018-19 budget to commissioners during a special session on May 21, a public hearing was held at the board’s regular monthly meeting on June 4 and the board adopted the plan during a recessed meeting Wednesday, nine days later.
Also included in the 2018-19 plan, the county raised per pupil allocations for Sampson County Schools and Clinton City Schools to $1,069, a 2 percent hike from the current $1,047, which was a 6 percent rise ($72 hike) from the 2016-17 amount. Clinton School District Supplemental Tax was adopted at 14.5 cents per $100 valuation of property.
Causey noted that, in 2016, a formula was proposed for funding school systems’ operational expenses that would up funding by 19.5 percent of general revenue increases. The $1,069 amount is slightly higher than that threshold,he noted.
“We are making a diligent effort to at least proportionately consider the needs of all our funding partners when available financial resources are less than requested,” Causey said last month. “We appreciate the concerns and the needs that they’ve got, but if we’re going to maintain a proportional budget, we don’t have a lot of alternatives.”
The 2018-19 county budget also includes:
• No cost of living adjustment for employees.
• Replacing 15 sheriff’s vehicles, one remounted ambulance, one truck for a fire inspector, one quick response vehicle, two cars for Social Services and one truck for the recreation department.
• Utilizing $350,000 in county capital reserve funds to fund a new roof at the Public Works building, estimated to cost about $200,000, as well as roof repairs and elevator improvements at the courthouse at a cost of $150,000.
• Establishing the Transportation Department as a separate department, with a director position added. With the addition of Medical transportation, the department’s budget has ballooned to $1.5 million.
• Increasing the Animal Shelter budget by approximately $60,000, which will cover the reclassification an existing position to a vet tech position, as well as increase medical supplies and provide additional funds for new dog pens.
• Appropriating nearly $1.9 million to balance the budget, but Causey said it is anticipated that lapsed salaries and benefits will negate the need to spend “a significant amount of this appropriation.”
The newly adopted 2018-19 budget can be reviewed in full at sampsonnc.com.
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.