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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : news : e-news August 9, 2022

5/23/2018 11:02:00 AM
A Tale of Two Counties
Gaston County Manager Earl Mathers told Commissioners the County had spent more than it brought in every year since fiscal 2009 but two, adding: 
Gaston County Manager Earl Mathers told Commissioners the County had spent more than it brought in every year since fiscal 2009 but two, adding: "Any additional commitments beyond those already budgeted should be delayed if possible."
While Gaston County's tax rate is the highest in the area (higher than Mecklenburg), Lincoln County's rate is the fourth lowest in the area and third lowest among counties of similar size courtesy of Lincoln County Gov't. from presentation at Commissioners' meeting Monday May 21st
While Gaston County's tax rate is the highest in the area (higher than Mecklenburg), Lincoln County's rate is the fourth lowest in the area and third lowest among counties of similar size statewide.

graphics courtesy of Lincoln County Gov't. from presentation at Commissioners' meeting Monday May 21st
+ view more photos

Wayne Howard

First, let us tell you that you'll likely start paying that additional quarter-cent local option sales tax approved by voters in October.  Both Lincoln and Gaston County approved the added local tax; in both, it's expected to be used for education, although the law doesn't allow current boards of Commissioners to mandate that for future boards.  Gaston County Commissioners gave the go-ahead on the tax at their meeting Tuesday evening; Lincoln County Commissioners will do the same at a June meeting.  

The new tax will hardly be recognizable to those making purchases--it will add only a penny to a four dollar purchase, only a quarter to a ten dollar purchase, only a quarter to a hundred dollar purchase, and only $2.50 to a $1000 purchase.  It will bring in about $6 million in Gaston County annually and $2.7 million in Lincoln County.

Gaston County will use the money to pay debt service on the $250 million in school bonds also approved by voters May 8th.  County Manager Earl Mathers suggested that the bonds be issued over a period a decade long--with the first $40 million being issued in fiscal 2019.  The money will be used to build two new schools and renovate others.  The first new school will be a new Belmont Middle School.

The budget presentations for the two counties showed the differences in their financial health.

If Commissioners approve the budgets as presented after public hearings in June, both counties will maintain the same tax rate as in fiscal 2018.  Lincoln County's rate is 61.1 cents per hundred dollars valuation; Gaston's is 87 cents.  In both cases that doesn't include fire district taxes.

Operations Manager Josh Grant made the presentation of the Lincoln County budget to the Commissioners meeting Monday.  County Manager Atkins interjected commentary on certain points during the presentation.

"Lincoln County's tax rate," Grant told Commissioners, "is the fourth lowest in neighboring counties and the third lowest in the state among counties with similar populations."  Gaston County, by comparison has the highest tax rate of any county in this area.  

Grant showed a pie chart that told where the County would be spending the money in the coming year's budget: a little over 31% ($32 million) for schools, 14% ($14.6 million) for the Sheriff's Office, and 11% ($11 million) for the Dept. of Social Services.  

Commissioner Martin Oakes asked Atkins for a breakout on the DSS budget, showing what part of it is reimbursed by federal and state funds and how much is actually local money.  Finance Director Deanna Rios told the Lincoln Herald Wednesday that of the $11,017,198 DSS budget, federal revenues account for $6,192,360, state revenues are budgeted at $581,598 and sales and services are budgeted at $110,981 for a total of $6,884,939; meaning the County's share for DSS is $4,132,259.  Of course, the programs operated by DSS are mandated by state and federal laws, so the County has no real choice but to fund them.

Grant's presentation also included a pie chart for the source of revenues.  Lincoln County gets 56% of its revenues from property taxes; 18% comes from sales taxes.  

Lincoln County Water & Sewer customers will be seeing an increase in their bills come July.  To finance expansion of the water treatment plant and distribution system and of the sewer system, the County will have to raise rates.  Commissioner Oakes commented that state laws now require that
a new state law effectively requires that 25% of the costs of general expansions be funded by the volume rates (i.e. current customers) as opposed to availability (capacity) fees.

Commissioners adopted a study (which had also been required by law) that showed how much the County would have to raise rates in order to expand the systems' capabilities.  Commissioners opted in an earlier meeting to phase in the water rate increase 6% for the coming fiscal year and 6% more each of the fiscal years that follow.  The sewer rate increase will be 15% come July.  

Most County employees will be getting a raise.  After a pay study, the first in ten years, the County will implement a new pay plan that will result in an average 8.38% pay increase for County employees.  The plan was designed to make Lincoln County competitive with other governmental units in our area including both other counties and cities.  

County Manager Atkins cautioned Commissioners that while this year's budget was balanced without any increase in taxes, even with the revaluation that is scheduled for next year, it may be more difficult to fund projects about which Commissioners have talked in fiscal 2020 and beyond.  The County has already taken the first steps toward a new West Lincoln branch library, but improvements to the Jonas Library in Lincolnton and a possible replacement for the Shanklin Library in Denver loom among future needs.  Another major expense will be the renovation of the Courthouse or the possible replacement of it as a judicial facility.  While the exterior of the Citizens Center has been renovated, there's the need for interior renovation.  Other projects--including expanding the County's water and sewer systems--will also be expensive.  

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at the June 4th meeting, after which Commissioners will likely give it their approval.  Commissioners Rich Permenter (family illness out of state) and Carrol Mitchem (unable to attend) were not present at Monday night's meeting.
In Gaston County, County Manager Earl Mathers gave his budget presentation.  The Gaston County budget for fiscal 2019 will be $219,698,732.  It includes a 3% cost of living pay increase for County employees.  That will cost the County about $1.8 million (by comparison, Lincoln County's new pay plan will add $3.2 million to the fiscal 2019 budget).

Other big expenses for Gaston County include a half million dollars for inceased teacher supplements, $572,000 for increases in health insurance costs, and $640,000 to keep School Resource Officers at the county's elementary schools.  

Mathers told Commissioners, "Gaston County has operated in such a lean manner for the last decade that some additional costs are now unavoidable."  He added, "Any additional commitments beyond those already budgeted should be delayed if possible."  Mathers said the County had spent more than it brought in every year since fiscal 2009 but two, and one of those finished in the black only thanks to the sale of the old Gaston Memorial Hospital to CaroMont.  Mathers cautioned that the County would have to make some adjustments and hope that the 2020 revaluation showed a significant increase in property values or the County would face the possibility that its fund balance would drop below the 8% required by the state.

3 - LC Health Dept 2022 Survey

Catawba County commissioners got their proposed 2019 budget presentation from County Manager Mick Berry on Monday May 14th. The Catawba County tax rate will remain at 57.5¢ per hundred dollars valuation.

The County will invest $2.7 million in the Trivium Corporate center, a joint project with the city of Hickory; increase per pupil spending by 2.6% for public schools; increase funding for Catawba Valley Community College by 4.8%; and increse fuding to the City of Newton and Maiden Rescue Squad for expansion of medical first response and rescue services in rural districts.

Catawba County Commissioners will hold budget hearings for County departments and outside agencies this Thursday in an all-day 8 AM - 5 PM session at the 1924 Courthouse in Newton.

The public hearing on the budget will be at 7 PM next Thursday (May 31st) in the Commissioners meeting room at the Justice Center. The vote on the budget is scheduled for the June 4th 7 PM meeting.

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3 - LC Health Dept 2022 Survey

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