When Guilford County Manager Mike Halford gave the Guilford County Board of Commissioners his initial thoughts on the fiscal 2024-2025 county budget at a Thursday, April 18 work session, he began with a pretty astounding statement.

“I’ll cut to the chase – there is not enough money to do everything everyone wants to do,” he said.

The reason that statement is somewhat astounding is that, in recent budgets – between federal relief millions, $92 million a year extra due to the 2022 revaluation of property, pulling money out of the county’s savings account, pretty good sales tax numbers and other factors – Halford and the board have for the most part been swimming in money.

And they’ve spent it on all sorts of things like higher employee pay, funding Guilford County Schools generously, nearly tripling the size of the Women- and Minority- Business Enterprise Department, expanding the county’s Public Relations Department – you name it.

However, at the April 18 budget work session in the Carolyn Coleman Conference Room in the Old Guilford County Court House, Halford said some plans and programs were going to have to be cut or delayed in order to arrive at a balanced budget for fiscal 2024-2025, which is currently estimated to come in north of $830 million dollars.

“We’ll need to move the chess pieces around the chess board to bring a balanced budget back to the board,” Halford said, adding that he wanted to hear feedback regarding what should stay and what should go.

Halford always wants definitive budget guidance at this time of year, but he rarely gets it from the board.

Last year at this time, Halford tried to gamify discerning the commissioners’ priorities by bringing green, yellow and red dot stickers and having the commissioners put them on a whiteboard next to various county goals and priorities.  At that April 2023 work session, the commissioners said they didn’t feel like playing the game, and Halford ended up getting very little guidance.

This week, the manager threw out a lot of suggestions in an attempt to get the board’s views.

“I want to get back from you, ‘That’s a good idea,’ or, ‘You missed it completely,’ he said.

The one piece of solid information the board gave him, by unanimous consent, is that they want Halford to bring a budget to them that includes no property tax increase.

Halford said the two most important areas for which he wanted to hear the board’s wishes were employee compensation matters and how much money should go to fund Guilford County Schools’ operating budget.

He said some ways the county could save money are by putting off buying new replacement vehicles that have been planned, delaying some desired building maintenance projects and limiting the purchase of new equipment and planned technology upgrades.

“I need guidance from the board,” he said, adding not much later, “Any other feedback for me?”

As usual, little came.

He said there will be additional chances for him to hear feedback from the board since there will be more work sessions before Halford brings his recommended budget to the board in mid-May.