County officials began briefing County Council members on the fiscal year 2021 budget process Tuesday, noting they are currently estimated to receive just over $45 million from the federal government due to the pandemic.
Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum and Budget Director Kelly Weaver provided some highlights, but added further discussion about County Executive Jan Gardner's (D) proposed $665.8 million budget would occur during an all-day workshop Thursday.
Harcum said the county is currently anticipating about $45.3 million from the federal government through the "Coronavirus Relief Fund," via conversations he and others have had with state officials. He later said in a text message that the county should also be receiving millions of dollars through other federal government funding streams due to the pandemic.
County officials are currently working on submitting a "business plan" to state officials by Friday, outlining how they would use those funds, Harcum said.
"We're looking at everything from additional aid for our health department all the way down to simple things like putting shields on transit buses to protect drivers, and PPE, and all the things you can possibly imagine," he said.
Regarding overall budget requests from county departments and divisions, more than $42 million in requests were "denied at the last minute," Harcum said.
"Some of these budget requests were really well-justified," he said, adding that while council members may feel they should feel funded, it's "just not the right time" to fund them.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R) asked about how much the budget would be reduced if the county adopted the constant yield tax rate instead of the constant tax rate.
The constant yield is the rate that would generate the same amount of property tax revenue as the previous fiscal year. The latter is the same property tax rate as last fiscal year, which often leads to more revenue year-by-year because of increases on homeowners' property assessments.
Weaver said if the constant yield—$1.0344 per $100 of assessed value—is adopted, the county would receive about $8.5 million less in revenue. The current rate is proposed at $1.06 per $100 of assessed value, a level it has been at for the last six years.
In a more general sense, the coronavirus is impacting how the county is approaching both the end of the fiscal year 2020 budget and beginning of the fiscal year 2021 budget, she added.
"It's going to be the underlying discussion of all these conversations," Weaver said.
Part of that includes "premium pay" for county employees who are working in the public at least part of the time, like building inspectors and transit bus drivers. That is paid to about 200-300 county employees each day, is an extra $2.50 per hour and should be reimbursed by the federal government, Harcum said.
"This was never part of their normal duties ... we're asking a lot of county employees to go way above and beyond what's in their job descriptions," Harcum said.