On Thursday, June 20, the first day of Summer 2024, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners did the most important thing they’ll do all year – the board arrived at and unanimously approved a fiscal budget that will direct nearly all county spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2025.

The new budget totals $833.7 million and keeps the county’s property tax rate at the current rate of 73.05 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

That means taxpayers will continue to pay the exorbitantly high taxes that they’ve been paying ever since a 2022 countywide revaluation of all the property in Guilford County produced sky-high values – and the county commissioners failed to adjust the tax rate downward to compensate for the property price increases and hold the budget “revenue-neutral.”

At the June 20 meeting when the budget was adopted, several commissioners pointed out proudly that the board did not raise the tax rate in the new budget, but they didn’t mention that two years ago the revaluation gave the county what’s almost certainly the highest tax revenue increase in the history of Guilford County, and now, each year, the board gets over $90 million in “extra” money to spend.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said he’d overseen many county budgets in the past and every one of them, including the one being adopted that night, had some good and some bad in them.

The budget, he noted, was a compromise between nine commissioners – seven Democrats and two Republicans – and the vote was unanimous.

Alston said the commissioners also worked closely with school officials on this year’s finished product.

“This year’s budget demonstrated great collaboration between the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the Guilford County Board of Education,” he said.

Alston also said that, by optimizing school bond fund money and working closely with school leaders, the Board of Commissioners was able to balance the budget “while allocating additional funds to school operational funding and school maintenance needs,”

The chairman added, “We will continue to work strategically to establish a long-term funding plan to address our community’s education needs – while ensuring that the county’s essential services are maintained. This year’s budget allows us to do both.”

Guilford County Manager Mike Halford’s proposed budget offered Guilford County Schools $5.87 million in additional money for operations over last year’s budget. Operations money pays for things such as salaries and heating bills.

Halford proposed $2.5 million to be used for school capital needs.

(The Guilford County Board of Education asked for a $55 million increase this year – but every year the schools have an extremely pie in the sky ask. Halford, for instance, said in May that, in order to fund that request, he would have had to completely shut down 30 county departments.)

Alston told the Rhino Times the day before the budget was adopted that he and other commissioners were hoping to somehow get the schools to a funding level that provided the school system $10 million more in operations money than was included in the last fiscal budget.  In the end, the board got to that goal of $10 million for school operations.

They did so by using some complex budget gymnastics that frankly some county commissioners didn’t even understand well.  But the short version is that the board took the $2.5 million from the capital outlay fund and added that to the $5.87 million which brought the number up to $8.37 million.  That still left the commissioners short of the $10 million increase goal.  So, the commissioners then took about $1.6 million out of the county’s savings account to get the schools up to a $10 million increase over last year.

The county manager and his budget team found a way for part of the $2 billion available in school bond funds to be used for school capital projects. That involved moving bond-eligible project expenses charged to county cash and lottery funds  provided in the 2023-2024 budget to bond funds

The 2024-2025 budget allocates $461 million – about 50 percent of the General Fund and Debt Service Fund – to support Guilford County Schools and Guilford Technical Community College, including funding for operations, capital outlay, and repayment of voter-approved school bonds

In all, the adopted budget provides more than $430 million for the school system’s operational and capital needs, including $270.2 million in operating support for Guilford County Schools, $10 million in capital outlay, $52.1 million to support future debt repayment on the $1.7 billion voter-approved school bond referendum and $99.3 million in school bond debt repayment.

This is a total increase in investment in Guilford County Schools of more than $36 million over the prior budget.

Of this allocation, the Board of Commissioners intends for Guilford County Schools to prioritize $25 million for school maintenance and repair.

Alston said he spent the federal holiday of Juneteenth working from early morning to late at night on last-minute budget issues and he said that many other commissioners and Guilford County staff members did the same. The chairman said the main issues under discussion that day were school funding, non-profit funding and Sheriff’s Department salaries.

Traditionally, after a budget passes each year, the county manager and budget staff go to a watering hole in downtown Greensboro and throw back some beers.

After the budget passed, Budget Director Toy Beeninga said several times that he was going straight home to his wife and seven cats (which he is allergic to, by the way.). The Rhino Times hasn’t been able to discover yet whether he did so or joined his Guilford County compatriots at Natty Green’s or wherever.