JEFFERSON — Acting Ashe County County Manager Adam Stumb proposed a $37 million county budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year during the Ashe County Board of Commissioners regular meeting Monday, May 20.
The $37,153,467 budget proposal was recommended with no change to the current tax rate of $0.443, Stumb said. For comparison, the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget was $35.281 million, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.
Accounting for the almost $2 million budget increase from the previous fiscal year are several expenditures, according to Stumb’s budget message:
Funding for education will be increased 4.5 percent, and the law enforcement budget will increase 5 percent.
Capital project funding will be allocated to the county airport, board of elections, environmental services, tax administration and public buildings.
Health insurance and retirement rates for county employees are increasing across the state, according to Stumb. A 2 percent cost of living adjustment has been accounted for, and part-time wages are proposed to increase for county employees.
Three local fire departments have requested an increase in their tax rate, Stumb said. Both Laurel Springs and New River volunteer fire departments want to increase their tax rates from 0.04 to 0.07, and Warrensville Volunteer Fire and Rescue seeks an increase from 0.68 to 0.8, according to the budget proposal.
“I believe that this budget represents a well-thought-out proposal which includes the hard work of each department of this county,” Stumb said in his budget message. “Without their hard work and dedication, it is my belief that we would not be in such good financial standing as we are currently in.
There are some major expenses looming in the county’s near-future, Stumb reminded the commissioners. Some capital projects that have already been identified include the construction of a new middle school, the Wilkes Community College expansion project and the potential of the old middle school, as well as proposed new buildings for the Department of Social Services, the Health Department, Environmental Services and Animal Control, Stumb said.
The board responded favorably to the proposed budget. Commissioner Larry Rhodes said it was important to keep the tax rate steady while continuing to provide the same services for the county.
“We will say more as we actually get into the workbooks and go through item-by-item, but on the whole it looks great, it looks doable,” Rhodes said. “We have some big things to do next year in looking at the middle school and Wilkes Community College — and plus, maintaining what we’ve got.”
According to Vice Chairman William Sands, the reason for Ashe County’s low tax rate compared to other North Carolina counties is the employees, who regularly spend less than their allotted budgets.
Ashe County’s tax rate of .443 is seventh lowest in the state, behind Jackson, Clay, Carteret, Macon, Swain and Watauga counties, according to 2018-19 data from the N.C. Department of Revenue.
“Y’all have done your work, now comes our part to go through it,” Chairman Todd McNeill said. “Pretty much every department turns money back in every year — that’s why we’ve got a healthy fund balance and that’s why our tax rate is low.”
As the newest-tenured board member, Commissioner Larry Dix echoed the comments of his fellow commissioners, adding that the county’s department heads have helped get him up to speed in understanding the county’s operations.
The commissioners unanimously voted to hold a budget work session immediately following their regular meeting Monday, June 3, and a public hearing for the county’s economic development budget will be at 9:15 a.m. June 17. These meetings will be held in the Ashe County Courthouse.
Should the budget work session June 3 continue past 5 p.m., it will resume the following day starting at 9 a.m., and so forth until the budget is fully reviewed, the commissioners said.