County Council members have been busy this week, dissecting the particulars of a $717.2 million operating budget proposal from County Executive Jan Gardner (D) along with corresponding projects in the Capital Improvements Program.
Gardner’s operating budget represents a nearly 8 percent increase from fiscal 2021. It also represents, perhaps, a framework for county government as it works its way out of the pandemic.
Here’s a look at some discussions between the council and county officials.
Overall revenue projectionsChief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum and Budget Director Kelly Weaver broke down the three portions of revenue: $370 million in property tax, $246.6 million in income tax and another $82.6 million in other taxes and fees that range from the recordation tax, permitting fees, park service fees and numerous other areas.
Harcum said it’s easy to predict property tax growth in a growing county as more houses are built. But he and others were surprised that income tax grew during the pandemic.
He and budget officers were anticipating a level or even drop in income tax revenue like seen during the Great Recession, but it “skyrocketed” to roughly $272 million.
“Nobody expected this to happen, absolutely nobody,” Harcum said Tuesday. “What is still kind of causing economists to scratch their head is, how did that happen.”
Harcum said the local economy moved to virtual much quicker than anticipated, including the private sector. There were terrible job losses and impacts on small businesses, but the local economy, from construction to biotech to manufacturing, has prospered, helping lead to the increase, Harcum said.
Sheriff’s officeSheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) highlighted some of his appeals to the council, which include four part-time correctional officers to help operate the detention center.
Those officers would help deal with overtime challenges and other scheduling logistics. The cost would be a little over $172,000.
Jenkins also detailed an addition to the medical unit at the detention center, which would add 15,000 square feet and would increase capacity from nine to 26 beds in that unit. That project costs about $12.75 million, with almost $5.4 million in state funds and the rest coming from county resources.
Also related to overall jail infrastructure, Jenkins said the work release center — with a population that has been declining for years and and currently houses a new detox center on the second floor — could eventually be repurposed for something else.
“I can almost envision a day where we walk completely out of there and that facility could be used, repurposed for something else,” the sheriff said.
Solid waste and recyclingIt’s been an interesting year for Phil Harris at the county landfill.
Harris, the county’s director of solid waste and recycling, said even though activity was up due to the pandemic, his budget request represents about a $1.4 million reduction from last year. They are an enterprise fund, meaning they are self-funded through their own fees and services.
One of the ways Harris’ division makes money is through recycling. But the overall market for recycling materials continues to drop, he said.
“Because of the markets, we are not getting that much money back,” Harris said about recycling. “There are times where it’s offsetting about 40 percent of the program costs.”
Emergency managementJack Markey, director of the county’s emergency management division, oversees 911 call-takers and other related employees, working with other law enforcement agencies with the goal of public safety.
Markey said his proposed budget asks to increase staff from 85 to 90 people, four within emergency communications and one administrative person. Those positions cost over $300,000.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D) noted Markey has dealt with high turnover and burnout among employees due to the stress of the job, but asked him about the future of the physical space emergency communications operates in.
Markey said it’s fortunate the community is growing, but added there are space needs and that eventually, in years to come, there will probably be a need for a new 911 call-taker facility.
“We do believe that’s something we should start having a conscious conversation about now, so we can align with municipal, county, state and federal efforts,” Markey said.
Council members have until the end of May to approve Gardner’s budget, or some variation. Per the charter, they can cut from the budget except for education, but cannot move money around or add to it.
A public hearing on the proposed county tax rate — $1.06 per $100 of assessed value — is scheduled for May 4.