“We are now at the end of June,” he continued, “and this virus does not seem to be going away any time soon. This has caused many challenges for most citizens in Lincoln County. People have lost their jobs or realized reduced incomes, due to temporary lay-offs. School was disrupted, and distance learning (Internet-based teaching) became necessary for the second half of the school year. High school seniors were not able to experience traditional proms and graduations that seniors before them were fortunate enough to attend.”
Atkins talked further about the virus’s various impacts.
“COVID-19 has resulted in many disruptions in Lincoln County,” he said. “For County government, we have had to limit services in many departments. The libraries, parks and recreation, senior services, veteran services and others have either closed or reduced services in order to maintain proper ‘social-distancing’ in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus. The ultimate goal is to protect employees and citizens alike.
The new budget for f.y. ’20-21
The virus has even affected the County’s budget process, as Atkins noted.
“Trying to project what revenues Lincoln County could expect for fiscal year ’21 became very challenging in March,” he said. “As our County budget process begins each year in September, there was no reason to believe revenues wouldn’t be greater in fiscal year ’21. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that revenues would likely decline, considering the number of businesses and industries that were affected by the virus. As a result, the budget process was halted long enough for staff to re-examine the revenue projections and report those to the board of commissioners.
“Considering the possibility of a departure of 16 to 20 percent, we also had to re-evaluate expenditures,” he added. “Consequently, many reductions ensued, and fund balance was appropriated in order to balance the budget at approximately $112.8 million. While the reductions were a very difficult decision of the board, they were necessary in order to maintain the current tax rate of .599 per $100 of valuation.”
The number of County employees will remain at about 945, as Atkins continued.
“Moreover,” he said, “proposed employee requests have been placed on hold, with the exception of three school health nurses. All capital requests and employee raises are also frozen until revenues can be re-examined. I do remain hopeful the revenues will come in higher than projected, and many of the reductions can be reconsidered in the fall.”
Atkins said it’s believed that fiscal year ’20-21 will bring new challenges and opportunities for Lincoln County. Some accomplishments that the County expects to realize during the new fiscal year include:
- continuing to seek new industrial businesses for Lincoln County;
- seeking opportunities to reduce costs;
- working with existing industries and businesses to assist in growth opportunities;
- increasing interdepartmental efficiencies;
- completing the water treatment plant’s expansion;
- beginning the wastewater treatment plant’s expansion;
- several improvements at various parks countywide;
- completing the new EMS/fire marshal/emergency management facility design;
- amending the Unified Development Ordinance to include 160D;
- continuing working toward a stormwater ordinance;
- completing the NC-73 and West Lincoln waterline projects;
- completing the construction of the Optimist Club Convenience Site;
- completing the NC-16 transportation study;
- working closely with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to improve transportation issues in East Lincoln;
- continuing to seek shared opportunities with the City of Lincolnton;
- beginning construction of the new courthouse;
- improving the Internet-based payment options;
- maintaining Lincoln County Animal Services’ no-kill status;
- beautifying Jack Dellinger Drive at the Lincoln County Regional Airport;
- increasing the nurse-to-student ratio in all of the Lincoln County Schools;
- continuing working to improve customer service in all areas of government;
- and developing public/private partnerships to better address roadside litter problems.
“Even with the challenges that everyone is facing, I have realized that the citizens of Lincoln County are more resilient than I could have envisioned,” said Atkins. “I am proud to be a Lincoln County citizen, and I have a renewed admiration for the spirit of our citizens.”
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