On Wednesday night, June 20, the nine members of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners were banging out the final details of a 2018-2019 budget deal.
It will provide the county’s school system with millions more in operating and capital funds than the schools got in the 2017-2018 budget, and will also fund new school nurses, merit raises for county employees, a new Family Justice Center in High Point and a good number of area nonprofits. The board intends to pass the new budget at its Thursday, June 21 meeting.
On Wednesday, as the Rhino Times went to press, most commissioners said it’s likely the county will keep the property tax rate at the current level of 73.05 cents per $100 of assessed value; however, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Alan Branson – who’s driving the process – said he was still holding out hope that the commissioners would be able to provide a slight tax decrease in the tax rate to continue the downward trend in taxes that the county has seen ever since Republicans took control of the board in 2012.
“It wouldn’t be a big one,” Branson said of a tax cut, adding that it would be nice to do something like a tenth- or quarter-cent reduction in the rate if it can be done in a fiscally responsible manner.
Commissioner Skip Alston, a Democrat, said he didn’t want to see a cut in the tax rate this year because it would be largely “symbolic” and the lost revenue is money that could go toward school needs.
The budget the board plans to adopt on June 21 is expected to total roughly $616 million, which is about $8 million more than the 2017-2018 county budget adopted last June. The new budget year for the county begins on July 1, which is when the 2018-2019 budget will go into effect.
The Guilford County Board of Education requested $206.4 million in county funds for the schools’ operating budget in 2018-2019. The commissioners are expected to give the school system about $202 million for operations in the new budget, though Branson said there was pressure from some commissioners to increase that amount – so it’s possible that number could be slightly higher when it’s all said and done. Branson said that would invariably be a point of contention that will be argued right up until a budget is adopted. An increase to $202 million would be a $6 million bump in operating funds over the $196 million in the current budget adopted last June.
In May, Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing proposed for the county’s schools to get $7.5 million in capital funds this year, which is money used for school repair and maintenance as well as for facility-based security upgrades. That would be an increase of $2.5 million over the 2017-2018 budget. The schools had requested $14.4 million in capital funds, with some of that money needed for school security measures such as security cameras and new door locks and window locks.
Last week, Commissioner Justin Conrad made a surprise motion that Guilford County approve a plan to provide up to $10 million in new money for school security needs by using two-thirds bonds – a special type of bond that doesn’t require voter approval. That move won’t affect the county’s budget this fiscal year since the county would start paying that debt in 2019-2020. However, given that up to $10 million is on the way for school security needs, some commissioners feel money should be shaved off the capital contribution in the new budget.
Commissioner Carlvena Foster, who served as a school board member before being elected commissioner, said she wanted to see the Board of Commissioners transfer some of that $7.5 million slated for school capital needs over to the school’s operating budget. However, some commissioners want to take some money out of the capital funding – perhaps $1.5 million – and put that toward paying off the debt from the $10 million in two-thirds bonds.
Commissioner Hank Henning said this week that some school advocates talk as though the county has money but just refuses to hand it over to the schools. He said the county really doesn’t have the money.
“There are not pots of money sitting around,” Henning said. “People say ‘Can’t we give them a little bit more for operations,’ but the money’s not there.”
This year, 46 percent of the county budget will go toward school funding or toward paying off school bond debt. Henning said a better number to look at is the percentage of every dollar of property tax the county collects, since that doesn’t include pass-through dollars. He pointed out that 59 cents of every dollar collected in property taxes goes to the schools.
Some items did seem to be well settled as the commissioners prepared for the budget vote. For instance, Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) will almost certainly get just over $16 million in county funds for operations, which is $1 million more for operations than it got last year. In the new budget, the community college is expected to get $1.5 million for capital needs, the same amount it got in 2017-2018.
GTCC’s enrollment has been falling in recent years, but Lawing said this week that he recommended more money for GTCC because of the added expense of operating a new Advanced Manufacturing Center at GTCC. Lawing said he also took into consideration that Guilford County hasn’t raised its contribution to GTCC very much in recent years.
The 2018-2019 county budget is expected to include $373,000 to fund five new school nurses and provide additional equipment to support them.
It will also include $400,000 in new money for an adoption program meant to encourage more permanent placements in families of children currently in the county’s care.
The budget is also expected to include $250,000 to help pay the operating costs of the Family Justice Center in High Point. That center will help victims of spousal abuse and other family-related violence or abuse.
The new county budget is likely to allocate $112 million on public safety services, which includes the Sheriff’s Department as well as Emergency Services. That’s an increase of $3 million over the money for public safety given in the 2017-18 budget. Some of that will go toward the purchase of new squad cars and ambulances.
The five Republican county commissioners who hold a majority on the nine-member board are all expected to vote in favor of the new 2017-2018 budget – with perhaps Democratic Commissioner Kay Cashion going along as well.
Alston said he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do, while Foster said it seemed like the Republicans were a long way from offering a deal that would get her vote. Last year, the four Democratic commissioners all voted for the budget in a unanimous vote.
On Tuesday, June 19, Branson met with Commissioners Jeff Phillips, Foster and Alston to see if an agreement could be worked out for this budget.
Alston said there were several things he’d like to see – including more school funding and a new county director position that would be focused on increasing the county’s use of minority and women’s businesses for goods, services and construction contracts. Commissioner Carolyn Coleman has been pushing for a new director of that type for a while, but she said this week that she wasn’t optimistic about the chances of getting that position in the budget.
Some late additions are expected this year. Several sources said it looked like the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, which got its application in late, would get the $25,000 it has requested from the county, and the Southwest Renewal Foundation of High Point is also likely to get $25,000 in county money.
Other economic development and cultural enhancement nonprofit groups are expected to get funded closely in line with what the manager called for in May in his recommended budget.