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Proposed county budget: more school spending

County Manager Dudley Watts

Proposed county budget: more school spending
May 18
07:30 2017

BY TODD LUCK 

THE CHRONICLE

The proposed $420 million Forsyth County budget for next fiscal year would slightly lower tax rates, thanks to higher local property values and tax revenues.

County Manager Dudley Watts presented a balanced budget to County Commissioners last week that maintains the county’s current level of service while recommending a revenue neutral tax rate that’s almost a penny less than the current rate. The overall higher property values found during this year’s countywide real estate Watts reappraisal means the county can lower the rate and still pull in the tax revenues it needs.

“It’s important to acknowledge we’re in a really strong economy, “ said Watts.

Staff will present a detailed budget presentation to the commissioners today, May 18. Commissioners will have a public comment hearing on the budget on Monday, May 22, and may adopt it on Thursday, May 25. The budget will go into effect on July 1.

The recommended tax rate of 72.35 cents per $100,000 in property value is slightly less than the current 73.1 cents rate. Of that 72.35 cents, 64.37 cents go to county operations, 2.90 cents go to debt service on the 2016 bonds and 5.08 cents go to debt for previous bonds.

The county’s school funding formula means that nearly 40 percent of new revenue goes to schools.  With the increase in tax revenues, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools will get $125 million, which is $3.61 million more that it received in the current budget.

“That’s a strong, strong commitment,” said Watts.

The budget is $2 million less than last year, not due to cuts, but because state funds for childcare subsidies and Medicaid transportation is now paid directly to providers instead going through the county.

This is just a preliminary budget. There are dozens of alternate service levels and special appropriation funding requests that would add more than $7 million to the budget if they’re included. These additional items, if approved, would need to be paid for with cuts in other areas or additional revenue, like tax or fee increases. The requests include additional staffing for various departments, increasing the county’s 401(k) contribution for employees from 2.5  to 5 percent and adding Veterans Day and an extra half day around Christmas to county holidays.

It also includes regular annual requests for funds from nonprofits like The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, HARRY Veterans Community Outreach Services Children’s Law Center and Old Salem Museum and Gardens.

The recommended budget maintains a 14 percent fund balance, to be used in emergencies and unforeseen circumstances. Taking all annually budget-ed funds into consideration, the budget keeps the ratio of debt service to general fund expenditures at 15.44 percent. This is below the county’s 18 per-cent debt ceiling, but a manager’s message in the budget does say that if the county does take on debt for all its planned capital projects, including the recent bonds and the new courthouse, that the debt ratio will drift slightly higher than that for approximately four years.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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