Guilford County Manager Mike Halford has come a long way since he became Guilford County’s budget director in the early part of this century. When he was growing up, he always wanted to be a pilot, and, in a way, he’s become one: He’s now the pilot of Guilford County government, and, on Thursday, May 16, at a Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting, he’ll do, that night, the most important thing he does all year – bring the board the county manager’s recommended budget.

Though the county commissioners have the final say on the 2024-2025 fiscal budget that determines how all county money is spent in the following 12 months, in reality, 95 percent or more of the budget always stays the same as the manager suggests.

The commissioners tweak the budget before adopting it, but those changes are almost always small in comparison to the giant $800 million-plus budget the county manager draws up these days.

Usually, the commissioners’ changes consist of the following:

  • Add money for their pet projects. One thing the county does is give away money to community non-profits like a YMCA that a commissioner supports or a particular community organization a commissioner has ties to, or a high school athletic fund at the high school they attended. Some of the non-profit groups tacked on to the funding list in the last days before a budget is adopted have literally never even been heard of by eight of the nine commissioners.

Former Guilford County Commissioner Paul Gibson told the Rhino Times a long time ago that it was astonishing to him that this category of money going to non-profits makes up perhaps 2 percent of the county’s budget each year, but the commissioners spend over 95 percent of their time arguing about those.

  • Change the amount the schools get. For years, there used to be some gamesmanship in this regard. The previous managers before Halford would come in with a low figure for school funding and school officials would be irate. Then – as planned? – the commissioners would increase the amount the schools received.

 That way, the manager was helping the commissioners politically because they looked like heroes who came in and saved the day. These days, however, there’s no reason to do this because the manager and the amazingly pro-schools Board of Commissioners absolutely flood Guilford County Schools with funding every year.

Currently, just under half of Guilford County’s budget goes toward funding education operations and school debt, and that number could be greater than half of the budget in a few years as debt repayment on the county’s $2 billion school bond debt payment obligations balloon.

  • Add positions that the manager didn’t. County department heads ask the manager for added positions each year, and, when he or she says no, the directors sometimes go over the manager’s head and plead with the commissioners, who often do grant the positions. Since the county now has millions and millions of extra money each year from the “hidden” tax increase due to housing inflation captured in the 2022 revaluation of property, there’s plenty of money for the board to use to add positions.
  • Take more money than recommended out of the county’s savings account. The add-ons that the commissioners tack on – and they are almost always add-ons, not things taken away – cost money, and the place to find that money is the county’s “General Fund,” aka the county’s savings account.

On Thursday, May 16, Halford will be the star of the show and he will present his budget and, as is the tradition, the commissioners won’t discuss the recommended budget at all at that meeting.

 Instead, they’ll talk about it later at work sessions and get feedback on the manager’s budget from county residents in early June at a public hearing.

Then, in mid-June, the Board of Commissioners, the ultimate boss of the county, will make its decisions as to how your money should be spent in the 12 months from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025.