Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts has proposed a $454.2 million budget for fiscal year 2020 that would raise the county property-tax rate by 2 cents to 74.35 cents for every $100 of property valuation.
His proposed budget is 6.5%, or $27.9 million, more than the current fiscal year budget of $426.3 million.
“This is the largest increase we’ve seen in the budget in quite some time,” Watts said. “It’s almost $28 million of new revenues and expenditures.”
The recommended tax-rate increase will pay for the debt service needed to build a new courthouse, he said.
Watts presented his proposed budget Thursday to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, which has final say on budgets.
“The general theme going into (fiscal year) 2020 is fairly exciting and that is that there’s a strong, local economy driving new tax base at historic post-recession levels,” Watts said.
Because of the current economy, he said, “you’ve got low-level unemployment and those things.”
But he said there are expenditure pressures, “debt service, personnel-related expenses and obviously schools.”
County officials have said that because Forsyth County voters rejected a proposed quarter-cent increase in the sales-and-use tax in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, there would probably be an increase in the property-tax rate to pay for the courthouse.
The tax increase accounts for $7.4 million, or 26.5%, of the increased revenue in the recommended budget. Minus the tax-rate increase, the budget would have increased by $20.5 million, or 4.5%.
Under the proposed tax rate, the owner of property valued at $150,000 would pay $1,115.25 in county property taxes. That same property owner would pay $1,085.25 with the current rate of 72.35 cents.
Watts focused on the general fund, which accounts for the majority of the county’s annual operating costs. Although the budget includes alternate service levels, which are “new and different” items, he primarily spoke about the continuation budget that is necessary for the county to provide services at its current level.
Watts said he did make a change in the way he did the budget this year.
“In prior years, I only recommended the continuation budget at the time that I handed you the budget, and usually that had a positive difference from revenues over expenditures,” Watts told the commissioners.
But this year, he also recommended the alternate service levels, in his proposed budget.
He said that after county staff members and departments helped balance the continuation budget, there was $793,955 in revenues over expenditures available for the alternate service levels.
“The alternate service levels, because they were a combination of revenues and expenditures, actually increased this (overall) budget by $1,386,462, so there were some revenue offsets in what I recommended,” Watts said.
The county’s primary revenue sources are property and sales taxes.
Combined these two taxes make up 76.1% of the county’s total general-fund revenue. Property taxes account for 61% of the revenue and sales taxes 15.1%.
Watts said the property-tax base has grown by $7.7 million and he expects sales-tax revenue to grow to $2.3 million in the coming budget year.
Of the proposed 74.35 cents tax rate, 4.51 cents is for education debt-leveling associated with the $250 million school bonds approved in November 2006 and $62.6 million of educational facilities bonds approved in November 2008. Two cents would go toward the 2020 courts debt, is 57 cents for library debt and 2.9 cents for 2016 education and parks debt.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office have the largest impacts on the county budget.
Total money for schools, including $52.1 million in debt service, is 40.1% of the overall proposed 2019-20 county budget.
The county uses a school-funding formula to determine the county manager’s recommended funding level. Watts has proposed $130.1 million for the school system.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board requested $134.3 million and an additional $40.2 million in alternate service levels for teacher supplements, classified staff and capital projects, bringing the school system’s total request to $174.5 million.
Watts has proposed giving the sheriff’s office $54.4 million as well as three alternate service level requests that total $234,535. The items are a part-time senior office assistant to help with processing records at the Law Enforcement Detention Center, a full-time sheriff’s deputy to work in Clemmons and a full-time deputy for the Field Services Platoon.
The sheriff’s office is hoping to get about $58 million. Its alternate service level requests include 34 positions, including school resource officers.
Although the alternate service level requests of $40.2 million from the school system and most of the positions wanted by the sheriff’s office were not in the county manager’s proposed budget, Watts said that all items will be up for discussion and questions during the budget process.
Watts said that other items driving up the proposed 2019-20 budget include the integration of Smith Reynolds Airport into the county’s operations for the first time and the county’s personnel-related expenses.
The county’s total personnel costs are $153.2 million annually.
The proposed budget includes money to continue a performance-pay plan and longevity pay as well as money for employee health benefits.
“We are in a competitive environment,” Watts said. “There are discussions that are driving that around minimum wage and all kinds of things. This budget does not address a standard minimum wage, but it does move salaries of county employees up and we do have some compensation classification adjustments.”
Other general-fund alternate service level items recommended in the county manager’s budget is one full-time animal-services officer and one full-time animal-care officer in the animal services department; enhancements in the Stepping Up Program and one full-time health educator II for the Opioid Crisis program in the public-health department; and five part-time library tech page positions.
There are several policy matters related to the budget that do not have a direct effect on property taxes.
They are a wellness clinic for county employees that would be initially paid for by the Employee Health Internal Service Fund, establishing a debt-service fund and a build-out of a countywide fire-protection-service district.
The county commissioners will participate in a detailed discussion of the proposed 2019-20 budget at 9 a.m. Thursday. The meeting will be held in the multipurpose room on the fourth floor of the Forsyth County Government Center at 201 N. Chestnut St. in downtown Winston-Salem.