Macon County proposing 1.59¢ tax hike for 2019-2020

At the direction of county commissioners, Macon County Manager Derek Roland presented his 2019-2020 fiscal year budget Tuesday night, and emphasized the county’s growing economy, population, and needs. The manager’s proposed budget totaled $52,834,025, a nearly $2 million increase over the current year. 

Macon County Commission Chair Jim Tate preceded Roland’s budget presentation by stating that Roland was tasked with several requests from commissioners to prioritize projects in the budget, which would likely result in an increase in needed funding. Tate noted that commissioners wanted to enhance services and infrastructure in Macon County and acknowledged that to be able to do so, additional funding would be needed. 

“Projected expenditures have increased by $1,805,016 or 3.5% over the FY ‘18-19’ original budget,” said Roland. “At this level of expenditures, we will continue to deliver high quality public services to Macon County residents and visitors. In FY ‘19-20’, our prior year’s commitment to enhance education funding will be solidified, upgrades to our infrastructure will be completed and additional personnel and equipment will be added to help meet the growing service demands within the Public Safety and Health and Human Services budget functions.” 

For the last 10 years, the county’s annual budget expenditures have increased on average by about $1 million a year. While the expenditures have increased, county leadership has consistently maintained a revenue-neutral tax rate, as required by law. A revenue-neutral tax rate might see a slight incline in the county’s tax rate however, the increase is only to be able to produce enough revenue to maintain the prior year’s budget. 

However, at the direction of commissioners, for the first time during his tenure as county manager, Roland proposed a tax rate increase beyond revenue-neutral to meet the requests of commissioners and needs of the county. 

The current tax rate for Macon County sits at .003532, (35.32 cents/$100) one of the lowest rates in the state. A revenue-neutral tax rate would come in at .003561 (35.61 cent/$100) for 2019-2020. 

However, because the revenue-neutral tax rate would only generate $400,000 in new funds for county projects, the needs were too high to maintain that tax rate. Roland’s budget proposes increasing the county ad valorem tax rate to .003694 – (36.94 cents/$100) a 1.59 cents increase.

“This increase will generate approximately $1,050,000 in recurring revenue. This amount is needed to cover increased funding for operations ($500,000) technology ($300,000), and annual capital outlay ($250,000) in the school system’s budget, as approved by the Board of Commissioners in FY ‘18-19’. 

The bulk of the increased revenue will go directly to fund recurring needs within Macon County Schools, something both the school system and the public have championed for in recent years. 

Rather than being funded as a recurring need, previously appropriations for the school system came from the fund balance or from the county’s consolidated capital projects fund.

As in all businesses and governments, a large majority of the county’s overall operating budget is for personnel costs. In Roland’s proposed budget, increases in health insurance premiums accounted for a significant portion of the budget. 

After personnel expenses, the county’s budget included new positions in public safety, new vehicles for several county departments, and capital expenditures addressing aging facilities. The two departments accounting for the bulk of the budget are public safety and the school system. 

“The FY 19-20’ budget continues to place high priority on the health and safety of our citizens. The Public Safety function includes Sheriff, Courthouse Security, Forest Service, Jail, Inspections/Planning, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Management and Animal Control,” said Roland. “In the coming year, public safety represents $15,469,580 or 29% of the general fund operating budget. This is a $1,507,947 or 10.8% increase over the FY 18-19’ Original Budget.”

Macon County Public Schools funding is proposed to stay at current year funding levels, but rather than fund the requests out of the fund balance, which was done this current year, Roland worked the nearly $1 million increase into the general budget so the increase can remain recurring. 

“In FY 19-20’ Macon County will continue to be a regional leader, in public education funding levels as well as average teacher pay,” said Roland. “According to figures published by the Office of the State Superintendent for fiscal year 17-18’, local funding accounted for 23.2% of total per pupil expenditures in the Macon County School System at an ADM (Average Daily Membership) of 4,325 students. At this level, local funding in Macon County was well above the seven county Region A average of 20.7% for FY 17-18’. Average teacher pay in Macon County for fiscal year 17-18’ at $51,700, was $1,460 above the seven-county Region A average according to these same figures.”

Budget work session are scheduled for the following weeks and public input will be solicited on the budget between now and the June 11 meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners. 

By Brittney Lofthouse

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