ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Board of Commissioners approved its budget for the next fiscal year which included an “inevitable” tax increase along with other harsh measures to offset a “dangerously low” fund balance for the county.
The budget passed following a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Herb Long and Ben Moss voting against it.
Last fall, County Manager Bryan Land called on all departments to cut their previous year’s budget by 7 percent following a letter from the North Carolina Treasurer’s Office that expressed concern for the county’s available general fund balance. At their budget meeting in March, Land said the county has been “dipping more and more into” the fund balance, which is meant to be used for a “rainy day,” over recent years.
To limit use of the fund balance, Land proposed a four cent increase to the tax rate, the first increase in 11 years and the same tax rate that the county had 17 years ago, according to Land. The budget also includes 2.5 percent increases in the solid waste and water fees.
The two dissenting commissioners expressed understanding of the difficult position Land was put in and the necessity of the budgetary constraints. Moss said he saw this increase coming two years ago when the county decreased its tax rate by two cents which he believed would force them into adding that two cents back to the tax rate — plus extra — in the near future.
“It’s just a hard pill to swallow,” Moss said. “I like this board that I serve with, but two years ago I warned everyone when we lowered the tax rate two cents on the hundred that we would be in this position and I was hoping that I would be wrong — but we’re exactly where I said we would be.”
Long said Land and the department heads had done well to “cut, cut, cut” but remained concerned about the effect the tax hike and fee increases could have on residents.
“Four cents is not a lot to some but it’s a lot to others,” Long said. “I’m not so sure that there’s not something out there that we could have dug deeper and found and maybe kept it to a one or two or three cent tax hike.”
This being the first budget he’s drawn up for the county, Land called the process an “extreme challenge” and said he doesn’t like the position of being the “grim reaper.” He also touted the work of the department heads who were able to find ways to cut costs.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” Land said, citing economic realities across the state. “We’re essentially the victim of a good economy … I hate it as much as anybody, the last thing I want to see is a tax increase.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]