The Guilford County Board of Commissioners held its first budget work session of 2020 on Tuesday, April 28, and the picture that Guilford County’s outgoing Budget Director Michael Halford painted was not a pretty one at all.
Halford told the board that, given the estimated loss in sales tax revenue and property tax revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, the county would likely fall $16 million short of revenue projections for the 2019-2020 budget year, and he added that the county’s finances were taking a hit from other revenue streams as well.
Halford said several times during his presentation – which kicked off the somewhat somber work session with everyone spread far apart in the third-floor conference room of the downtown Greensboro BB&T building – that these numbers were just estimates and that, really, the county would not have the full picture of the damage until later this year. The actual sales tax and property tax numbers are not in yet for the final months of fiscal 2019-2020, which ends on June 30.
Each year, before a county budget is adopted, county budget, tax and finance staff, along with the county manager, estimate the amount of revenue the county is expected to pull in – which, of course, tells the Board of Commissioners how much money there is to spend that year. County staff always under estimates the mark by millions on purpose so that the county is always running a surplus at the end of the year. However, apparently in mid-2019 no one foresaw that vast segments of Guilford County’s economy would shut down almost completely – which is why the county must now fill that $16 million hole.
The county is getting $93 million in funds from the federal government, but, Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing said at the work session that money must be spent on COVID-19 response and relief, and couldn’t be used to alleviate budget shortfalls.
Commissioner Kay Cashion said at the work session that things could be worse than expected when it’s all said and done because, based on what she’s been hearing from local business leaders, the numbers are “real, real, real bad.”
Halford said one fortunate thing is that the county has already collected the vast majority of its property taxes for this fiscal year, so the loss there should be minimized somewhat. The big hit will come from the sudden drop-off in sales tax revenue that began in March.