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Last updated: May 30. 2014 4:05PM - 711 Views
By - cfriedman@civitasmedia.com



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Richmond County will dip into its savings account to balance its $48.2-million budget without raising property taxes, County Manager Rick Sago said, but residents might have to pay 5 percent more for water.


The $5.5-million budget for county water and sewer services includes a rate increase to pay for “the continued increase in the cost of water chemicals and fuel costs,” Sago wrote in a budget message distributed to the county Board of Commissioners.


Commissioners will meet in a Monday afternoon work session to review the county manager’s proposed 2014-15 budget before voting on the spending plan Monday evening. Sago used about $1.5 million from Richmond County’s general fund to balance the budget, an increase from the current year’s $47,187,122 total.


“This proposed budget is extremely conservative and tight,” Sago wrote. “There are funds set aside to meet our debt requirements and maintain current county operations.”


The county has enough cash in its rainy-day fund to withdraw some for next year’s budget, Sago said, but more will need to be saved in coming years.


“This budget has been balanced through the use of fund balance for several years consecutively, and this practice is unsustainable,” Sago wrote. “…More will have to be done in the upcoming year to save money in order to discontinue this practice of depleting fund balance to balance the budget.”


Reductions in sales and property tax revenue contributed to the $1.5-million shortfall along with payments on the county’s $25 million in school bonds and $20 million loan for the Richmond County Judicial Center.


“As you know, sales taxes and ad valorem taxes are the county’s primary sources of revenue, and lke all other North Carolina counties, we are still suffering from a lag in property tax values,” Sago wrote. “It has become increasingly difficult for a county government to fund mandated services, much less service required debt.”


County sales tax revenues have fallen by $3.7 million since 2008, Sago told commissioners.


Richmond County’s tax rate of 81 cents per $100 in property value would remain unchanged if the proposed budget is approved.


County employees would no longer have to take unpaid time off from work under Sago’s budget, which eliminates furlough days and includes limited funding for merit raises.


“Although much of the county’s budget is made up of personnel costs, I felt it to be unfair to continue to expect employees to take a 2 percent pay cut,” the county manager wrote.


COMMISSIONER TO RETIRE


County leaders on Monday will recognize Jimmy L. Maske, who stepped down from the board effective Saturday after 36 years on the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.


Maske’s term is set to expire on Dec. 31 and he is not seeking re-election. Commissioners will appoint a replacement to fill the remainder of his term in accordance with state law. Maske is a Democrat, and the law requires that the board appoint a commissioner of the same political party.


Commissioners will meet for the budget work session at 1 p.m. and reconvene for the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the county’s administrative office building, 125 S. Hancock St. Both meetings are open to the public.


Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-311, ext. 13.


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