Macon passes budget with adjustments

The new budget sets the foundation for $145 million in capital improvements, including the construction of a new high school. File photo The new budget sets the foundation for $145 million in capital improvements, including the construction of a new high school. File photo

After several lengthy discussions, Macon County Commissioners approved the fiscal year 2024-25 budget by a split vote with a couple of last-minute changes to the proposed document. 

“The fiscal year ‘25 recommended budget is probably the most important to me because it has been a decade in the making,” said County Manager Derek Roland. “This budget sets the foundation for $145 million in CIP improvements.”

Despite the final adjustments, Macon County’s total appropriations will remain at $63,704,651 as was recommended by Roland in February, with revenues to balance that. This is a decrease of just under $50,000 from last year’s budget.

The tax rate will remain at $0.27 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which means the county will maintain the lowest tax rate in the state. Despite that low rate, Macon County currently has a AA2 credit rating from Moody’s and an AA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s which allows for a debt capacity to support $70,100,000 of the $133,650,000 in education-related capital projects through the Capital Reserve Fund in the coming fiscal year.

During the June 11 meeting, the board discussed several last-minute changes to the recommended budget and eventually took a final vote.

Finance had prepared two budget ordinances for the county commission to consider approving, one that kept the Franklin fire tax as it was in the current fiscal year, at $0.0524 per $100 of assessed property value and one with an increase in that tax to $0.07 per $100 of property value. The commission approved the fire tax increase for the Franklin district by a 3-2 vote with Commissioners John Shearl and Paul Higdon dissenting.

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“I would do a little different planning,” said Commissioner Paul Higdon. “Twenty-five percent of any increase in one year, that’s a big year and all of a sudden, it’s just happened. What’s to prevent all of a sudden, this happening again?”

Commissioners also reached a consensus to reduce the appropriation to senior services by $200,000 and move that money into contingency. This money was originally intended for a space-needs analysis. Now, the commissioners plan to hold that money in contingency with the understanding that they will gather more information on the immediate ADA needs at the senior services center.

The consensus on this item was 3-2 with Shearl and Higdon dissenting.

The original budget proposed two new environmental health specialists as a long-term solution to the backlog problem of well and septic permits at Macon County Environmental Health.

At first, there was consensus to keep one new position for environmental health and move one to planning and permitting to cover the inspector position. That consensus was reached by 4-1 vote with Shearl dissenting.

However, after further discussion, the board decided to remove an additional position from environmental health altogether, including a vehicle that would have accompanied it, and keep one new position for building inspection in planning and permitting, along with a new vehicle.

This consensus was again a 3-2 vote with Shearl and Higdon dissenting.

The board also decided to fund a 10% increase in coaching supplements for the Macon County School system. This will cost $31,720 and will be taken from contingency. That money will be added to the school system’s operating budget by budget amendment at the commissioner’s July meeting. 

The rest of the funding for the school system will remain as proposed at $10,031,774 for operation, the first increase to operations funding since fiscal year 2019-20. This falls short of the school system’s request by $2,546,433. The increase was requested in order to fund 26 additional positions in the coming school year that were created during the COVID-19 Pandemic and funded through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund, which is coming to an end this year.

Commissioners also discussed relinquishing ownership of the old Cowee School, now the Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center. The board decided to fund the school as it has in years past for 2024-25, but moving forward it will discuss how to transfer ownership of the property. The allocation for 2024-25 is $38,375.

Commissioners also voted to remove the community funding pool from the budget, which goes to support nonprofits working in the county, but that failed, 2-3, with Shearl and Higdon the lone supporters.

After the board reached consensus on these changes and plans for the coming fiscal year, Commissioner Shearl suggested lowering the overall tax rate.

“Through this process, we’re here bouncing around numbers and trying to get this budget adopted, and we’re taking money from this and putting it in contingency,” said Shearl. “How about a real idea and give taxpayers a decrease in their property taxes. If we got half a million dollars here that we’re floating around, let’s reduce taxes and balance the budget that way.” 

But with expenditures and revenues balanced at $63,704,651, the board did not consider lowering the property tax rate, which would have brought revenues below budgeted expenditures.

The final, balanced budget was approved by a 3-2 vote with Shearl and Higdon dissenting.

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