Macon budget battles increasing costs
Macon County’s proposed budget for 2018-19 does not include a tax increase despite increasing costs and capital needs throughout the county.
The county’s total proposed budget is just over $49.8 million, which is only a few thousand dollars more than last year. County Manager Derek Roland told commissioners during his budget presentation May 15 that the property tax rate would remain at 34.9 cents per $100 of assessed value. With the average tax rate in the region being 45 cents and the state average 67 cents, Roland said Macon County is still providing quality service at an affordable rate.
Macon County continues to grow its fund balance year after year. With about $22.5 million in reserves, Roland said the county has about six months worth of expenses within the fund balance in case of an emergency, but commissioners are also eyeing some of that money to advance their capital improvement plan.
Looking at the county’s debt load, Roland said it continues to decrease each year and that would continue unless the county decides to take out a new loan for a project. In 2011, the county’s debt was over $62 million and now it’s just over $33 million.
“Since 2011, we have essentially cut our debt load in half,” he said.
Debt still being paid off includes $1.5 million for school technology upgrades, $1.5 million for Highlands School renovations, $2 million for Parker Meadows Sports Complex and $2.9 million for Union Academy and Highlands School renovations.
Thanks to an increase in the county’s property tax collection rates and a $74 million increase in overall property values, Macon County can expect an additional $250,000 in revenues for the next fiscal year, which will come in handy given all the increases in expenses Roland highlighted for commissioners.
Roland said the health insurance rate increase would have the biggest impact on the county’s budget in the coming year. The county received seven proposals from different health care providers, but even the best deal comes with a heavy cost.
“Rate changes to health insurance will mean a $504,148 annual increase in the county’s contribution,” he said. “We’ve had two of the worst claim years in our history — that has been an ever-changing thing and has a tremendous impact on the county.”
The county does have a health insurance reserve to lean on in cases like this, but much of the cost will be passed on to retired county employees and active employees who have dependents covered on the county’s plan. The county will continue to pay 100 percent for employee coverage.
Roland recommended moving $280,325 from the health care reserve to the general fund to cover over half of the increase while $258,321 of the hike will be passed along to employees through a 10 percent reduction to the county’s dependent subsidy.
“But when you compare these rates we’re at now, even with these changes, Macon County still retains among the highest quality of affordable health insurance plans you can have out there,” Roland said.
County employees received a letter from the county earlier this month alerting them to the 24 percent increase to the county’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan and how it would impact their dependent coverage. Employees with children were advised to check their eligibility for other health insurance coverage, including Medicaid and Health Choice coverage through the state.
Roland also said he won’t be recommending a cost-of-living wage increase for the county’s 360 employees because of the health care impact and because of the new pay plan the county implemented a few of years ago to get wages up to where the county can compete regionally.
Roland said an increase in the number of inmates coming through the county detention center has caused an increase to the county’s overall public safety budget, which accounts for $13.9 million or 28 percent of the county’s overall budget.
In 2013-14, Roland said the 75-bed jail was averaging around 52 inmates a day, but now the average is up to 100 a day and many have to be transported to other facilities outside the county. An increase in the jail population means an increase in staffing needs, food and health care costs as well at the detention center.
The county is also budgeting an additional $56,000 for courthouse security upgrades. Roland said the security committee would be making a full report to commissioners soon on its recommendations.
The county also will be investing $46,000 toward equipping four sheriff patrol vehicles with dash cameras. The new cameras will replace the department’s “outdated and non-functioning” camera systems.
To see the complete budget summary, visit http://maconnc.org/budget-message.html.