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Budget for 2013 coming into view
Finance committee reviewing numbers
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Forsyth County News

The big picture for Forsyth County’s 2013 budget began to come together Friday during a finance committee meeting.

The preliminary total anticipates a little more than $90 million in revenue for the county’s general fund, said David Gruen, finance director.

The final tax digest is expected to be complete June 8, and the preliminary budget will be presented to commissioners four days later.

County commissioners must approve the millage rate by July 31, and the 2013 budget must be adopted by year’s end.

Estimates for 2013 show property tax collections declining by less than 1 percent. An anticipated increase in sales tax revenue likely will offset that, Gruen said.

And an expected increase of about $2.4 million in the local insurance premium tax based on 10-year U.S. Census numbers will add to the county’s revenue compared to last year.

The preliminary expenses total for same service levels and required costs is about $178,000 higher, though some other costs likely will add to that total.

“That’s our starting point,” Gruen said. “It’s close.”

He noted that the expected addition of a state-approved third Superior Court judge could cause an increase of up to $1 million, but the committee worked during the meeting to lower that projection to about $725,000.

The committee, which includes Commissioners Patrick Bell and Brian Tam, also made recommendations on requests for capital items or new budget items that would add to the expense.

Of several requests, Bell said the commission couldn’t fund them “in this economic climate.” Some additions made the cut, but most were denied or returned so staff could further gauge their necessity.

New ideas for funding through lease options, outsourcing of services or paying for expenses in the current year budget were raised for several requests.

Overall, the bottom line of $90 million shows a drop from last year’s approved $92.4 million, but some changes in accounting make a direct comparison difficult.

One major difference is moving internal service charges out of department budgets and into the general fund.

That results in a drop for the individual budgets, but an increase to the main fund, Gruen said.

Also, adding a separate grant fund out of the general account lowers the amount by about $1.1 million, he said.

The preliminary requests amount to about $3.6 million in increases for same service levels and required expenses in the county, the largest of which is about $1.7 million more for health care costs.

That’s due to rising health care costs, mandates from the federal government and more claims from employees, said Pat Carson, personnel services director.

The county is working to institute a wellness program to help curb those costs and may also consider increasing employee contributions, depending on the outcome of the U.S. Superior Court’s ruling on the federal health care overhaul, Carson said.

Still, that number is unlikely to be reduced by much in 2013, she said.

The second big increase to county expenses, Gruen said, is the return to a 5 percent increase to employee 401(k) plans from 3 percent, a measure set to sunset at the end of 2012.

For comparison, Gruen said each 1 percent increase to employees’ cost-of-living adjustment adds about $400,000 to the general fund, versus about $685,000 for each 1 percent increase to the 401(k) match.