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Tax hike appears unlikely this year
BOC: Other ways to close budget gap
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County commissioners have announced they do not support raising property taxes for next year.

After reviewing the preliminary 2013 budget earlier this week, the five men took turns agreeing that the county can find another way to close a projected gap.

The county must adopt the 2013 millage rate by July 31, and approve a balanced budget by year’s end.

The anticipated revenues in 2013 are projected to total about $90 million, but the proposed expenditures so far amount to about $91.6 million.

David Gruen, county finance director, said during a meeting Tuesday that budget requests to maintain the same levels of service in 2013 total about $90.2 million.

The addition of a third Superior Court judge, a half year of operating a fourth library branch and nearly $500,000 in recommended new items for funding bring that total to the $91.6 estimation, Gruen said.

“If all those items are included in this budget,” he said, “the county will need $1.5 million in funding or cuts.”

On the revenue side, the final tax digest isn’t set, but officials anticipate a 1 percent drop from 2012, Gruen said.

Commissioner Patrick Bell suggested the commission review the preliminary budget and notify staff of possible places to close the gap by the end of next week.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to find that $1.5 million somewhere because I don’t think there’s going to be a millage increase this year,” Bell said.

County Manager Doug Derrer said if the commission doesn’t anticipate a millage rate change then staff and the finance committee “have our marching orders.”

“We can go back and tweak again as many times as it takes to refine that number and bring what we consider a balanced budget back to the board on [June] 26,” Derrer said.

One area the commission could consider is benefits to employees.

The county contribution to 401k funds was reduced to 3 percent the past two years from the previous 5 percent.

Increasing that contribution by 2 percent again would cost nearly $1.2 million in the general fund.

Commissioners also have the option to grant merit raises based on performance.

That cost to the general fund would be $384,000 for a 1 percent allowance, $767,000 for 2 percent or $1.15 million for 3 percent.

Last year, the commission opted for a cost-of-living adjustment rather than return the 401k contribution to 5 percent.

The preliminary budget may appear smaller than the 2012 approved amount of about $92.4 million, but the dollar figures can’t be directly compared due to some changes in the accounting practices of the budget for 2013.

In comparison to the 2012 budget, the 2013 total is nearly 4 percent higher, Gruen said, using adjusted figures of about $93.4 million for 2012 and nearly $97 million for 2013.

The adjustments to the budget shifted three internal service funds from individual department or office budgets into the main account for reporting, he said.

That has caused the percent change column for increases or decreases over the previous year to be “not as meaningful” in terms of whether a department’s budget has grown or shrunk, Gruen said.

The accounting has also changed in creating a separate grant fund to track those contributions and required funding matches, which total nearly $1.2 million.

Thirdly, an insurance premium tax fund has removed about $6.9 million from the general fund.