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Haywood budget presented to commissioners

Haywood budget presented to commissioners

For the second year in a row, Haywood County taxpayers can expect no increase in property taxes, thanks to increasing revenues and a substantial fund balance appropriation, but the county’s health care costs are starting to become nearly unmanageable. 

On the revenue side, all of Haywood County Manager Bryant Morehead’s projections are good news — general fund revenues should come in 3.73 percent higher than last year, or about $3 million more, thanks in part to an $823,000 increase in property tax collections and a $728,000 increase in sales tax collections. 

Those two revenue streams alone account for more than 72 percent of general fund revenue and together total more than $60 million. 

General fund expenditures, however, are up more than $4.8 million, including a $1.8 million increase in public safety spending, a $1 million increase in health and human services spending, and an $882,000 increase in education spending. 

Those increases, though, are largely due to a staggering $2.8 million rate hike by the county’s health care provider; last year the county paid $6.75 million, but this year, the bill is closer to $9.54 million.

Without the 41 percent rate increase, the $1.8 million increase in public safety spending would only be $882,000, the $1 million health and human services increase would be $864,000 and the $882,000 increase in education spending would be $247,000. 

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“The health insurance has been the biggest concern,” said Morehead. “We’ve got to get that fixed.”

Morehead said he’d re-bid the plan in July to ensure the county is getting the best rate it can, but he also cautioned that “difficult decisions” are on the horizon for commissioners, including the possibility eliminating retirement benefits for those hired after Dec. 31, 2019. 

Such a move could prove catastrophic for a county that’s struggled to retain employees who can find better compensation and benefits in other municipalities or in the private sector. 

Employee retention has been a major theme of this year’s budgeting process, and Morehead this year took several steps to bring compensation in line with market rates. 

First, the budget proposes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees, beginning with the new budget year in July. 

Then, during the first pay period of 2020, employees will receive a “market adjustment” based on salary. 

The county’s 308 employees who make less than $40,000 a year will receive a 5 percent raise; almost half of them are employed in public safety, and more than a quarter in health and human services. 

A 3 percent raise will likewise come to the county’s 146 employees who make between $40,000 and $60,000. Half are in health and human services, and a quarter are in public safety. 

County employees making more than $60,000 — a total of 46 people — will receive a 1.5 percent raise. Again, the majority are in health and human services, followed by public safety employees. 

Increased spending, to the tune of more that $881,000, is also slated for the county’s two educational entities, Haywood Community College and Haywood County Schools. 

HCC capital funding will increase by $57,000 to $417,000 and operational funding will rise by almost $180,000 to $2.93 million. 

HCS capital funding will increase by $150,000 to $900,000, and operation funding by almost $500,000 to $16.49 million. 

There may be a small savings to the county if a proposed change in how the county handles recreation becomes a reality; right now, the plan is to dissolve the county’s recreation department and pay the Town of Waynesville $100,000 to administer the county’s recreation programs, while paying the Town of Canton $100,000 to start its own recreation department. Currently, the county spends $250,000 a year. 

Before the meeting, Commissioner Brandon Rogers said he’d received calls from people on both sides of the issue, but was leaning toward the new plan. 

County capital funding, though, will see a substantial cut, from $2.93 million to $2.07 million. 

New voting machines slated for purchase in 2018 and 2019 weren’t acquired at that time, and won’t even be included in this budget, because there’s a lack of certified equipment at the state level; county elections board director Robbie Inman may have to come back to the board for a fund balance appropriation of approximately $800,000 if they ever become available. 

All in all, the proposed general fund budget totals $87,551,660. Morehead said that he’d received requests from department heads for just $1.8 million more than that, meaning he didn’t have to reject many of those requests. 

“The departments, they really asked for what they needed, not what they wanted,” he said. “There’s a difference there — they really made fiscally conservative requests, so we didn’t have a whole lot to cut out of it. That was a pleasant surprise. Their requests were really streamlined.”

This was Morehead’s first budget presentation as Haywood County’s manager, but it was far from his first budget. He was hired by the previous board of commissioners in August 2018, based largely on his substantial budgeting experience in Gaston County. Local government veteran and Commission Chairman Kevin Ensley said this was the 15th budget he’d worked on personally, while Morehead said this was his 18th.

“I can tell you when I first met Bryant after the election, before I got sworn in, that was my first question to him — budget experience,” said Commissioner Tommy Long, who like Morehead was working on his very first Haywood budget. “I felt he was very qualified to do this job. As we saw from his presentation, he’s thoroughly versed. Budgeting is a strong point for him, and I think that’s very good for our county.”

Long commended Morehead for his effort on the budget, especially in light of his own inexperience. 

“I was very nervous going in to this [in January, when the budget process began], and I tried to stay on top of it,” said Long. “I was actually in contact with Bryant three or four times a week, sometimes a couple times a day, to verify things.”

Commissioner Mark Pless, who like Long was elected in November 2018, shared Long’s sentiments about Morehead.

“I’ve been impressed,” said Pless. “He’s put the needs out there, he’s given us a lot of information to be prepared. I couldn’t ask for any better. When it comes down to making decisions in the best interest of the county, I think he’s given us all the tools we need to do that, and I’m impressed with that part of it.”

Pless, also going through his first budget process with Haywood County, said he was eager to dig in to the document to see if it couldn’t be made just a little bit better before adoption, which by law must occur by July 1. 

“I’m glad I finally have it to where I can look at it and do something with it,” he said. “We talked about a lot of different things, a lot of different needs. Everybody of course says they need things and some times the needs outweigh the actual amount of money that we’ve got, so I’m anxious to get a hold of it in its entirety and see what it looks like.”

 

Haywood County budget public hearing

On May 20, Haywood County Manager Bryant Morehead presented to commissioners what’s known as the “manager’s budget,” a comprehensive document outlining his revenue projections and spending recommendations for the coming year. After commissioners review those recommendations and, possibly, make changes, a public hearing must be conducted. 

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Date: Thursday, May 23

Location: Haywood County Historic Courthouse, 678 North Main St., Waynesville

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