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Commissioners begin shaping 2021-22 budget

County Manager Steve Wyatt describes the current budget. County Manager Steve Wyatt describes the current budget.

Henderson County commissioners are reviewing the county's current financial situation, getting their first look at budget requests and beginning the process to shape a new budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Lightning will update the highlights during the daylong retreat.

 

Surprisingly, given the economic cost of the pandemic, sales and property tax revenue are running ahead of projections.

"Local option sales tax — given the unknown territory that we were heading into economically, I recommended a very conservative budget for sales tax," County Manager Steve Wyatt said. "We met that budget, we've exceeeded that budget. I would like to know why. I can't really explain that to you." Federal stimulus money and expanded unemployment benefit probably contributed, he said. "We're running about $3.7 million ahead. When you look at general fund revenue, there's actually no bad news there. This performance has exceeded our expectation and that's good news."

New schools, Blue Ridge Community College buildings, the Emergency Services headquarters and other major capital projects account for the county's longterm debt, which totals $160 million this year and falls in upcoming years.

The county's property tax rate of 56.1 cents per $100 valuation is 18.7 percent lower than the state average "and we still do stuff," Wyatt said.

Projected revenue for the 2021-22 budget is $147 million while the projected spending is $162.75 million, meaning commissioners would have to use fund balance and trim expenses in order to balance the budget.

For the school system, Superintendent John Bryant said the School Board hopes the Board of Commissioners will restore funding for projects that were pulled last year because of the Covid-19 shutdown: a $702,000 main entrance and cafeteria renovation at Upward Elementary School, a $500,000 entrance renovation at Rugby Middle School and $600,000 for Chromebooks. For operating expenses the School Board requested $31.4 million. Its request for maintenance, repair, technology and security capital was $4.67 million.

In wrapping up, commissioners shared their priorities for the 2021-22 budget:

  • Newly elected Commission Chair Bill Lapsley brought up two priorities for the new budget that commissioners have not agreed to fund in the past — funding school resource officers in the three county schools in the Hendersonville city limits and supporting the Ecusta Trail.
  • Commissioner Rebecca McCall asked for support for the Etowah Park walking trail. She said the county has "a huge problem" with litter and suggested a countywide beautification campaign in partnership with cities. She also urged support for First Contact addiction ministry.
  • Commissioner Michael Edney supported the VFW purchase and renovation and said the county needs to explore alternative sources of funding for the county's rural fire departments. Several years ago, commissioners discussed a countywide fire tax to fund the departments. Edney also asked what had happened to the idea of fixing the Oklawaha trail link between Jackson Park and Seventh Avenue.
  • Commissioner Daniel Andreotta supported adding a bay and living quarters to the Fletcher Fire Department for a satellite ambulance station. He pointed out that the county has approved almost 700 homes at the old Tap Root dairy property, there are 311 housing units "that aren't that old" next to Fletcher Town Hall, plus 74 homes going up on Rutledge Road. Andreotta also proposed an inmate workday in which the inmates would do projects at public buildings. He, too, is concerned about volunteer fire departments.
  • Commissioner David Hill also expressed support for fire department funding, the Etowah Park walking trail, digitizing register of deeds records and doing something about what he called "forced voluntary annexation."