May 24, 2012
Hyde County budget call for six-cent tax increase


A $600,000 shortfall in revenues to cover expenses has forced the Hyde County commissioners to propose a tax increase of six cents for the 2012-13 budget year.

Mazie Smith, Hyde County manager, presented the budget plan at the May 21 commissioner’s meeting and stressed that her department heads have cut their budgets to the bare bones amidst declining tax revenues and interest rates, and still expenses exceed revenues.

“We’ve balanced the budget under unprecedented circumstances,” she said. “We have $14.7 million in expenses and $13.9 million in income.”

Those figures produced an $809,000 deficit.  The tax increase of $.06 would yield $612,000 in revenues leaving another $200,000 in cuts to find to balance the budget.

However, at the May 21 meeting, the commissioners learned that they are required by contract to fund the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Library this year, which requires another $42,000, bringing the total deficit to $242,000.  The contract, signed in 1995-96, requires a one-year notice for cancellation.

The commissioners agreed to take that amount from the fund balance, which is now at $1.4 million.

“However, taking money from the fund balance is not the way to balance the budget,” Smith said.

North Carolina requires all counties to hold in reserve 8 percent of the prior year’s total budget, explained Corrine Gibbs, Hyde County finance manager.

She assured the commissioners that the draw-down of $242,000 would not cause the county to fall below that 8 percent requirement.

The budget will be on the agenda for enactment at the June 4 meeting.  Smith welcomes citizen input until then and has offered to explain the budget to community groups.  Groups that would like this service should contact her office.

The budget is available in the Ocracoke Library for review and online at the county website

Smith explained that some of the county’s rising costs are due to a 7 percent increase in health insurance premiums for employees, property insurance increase, and unemployment compensation increases, which is due to the federal government having extended those benefits. 

In addition, the county is having to pay for more state and federal regulations passed down to the local level.
Among those unfunded services are having to pay for housing persons convicted of misdemeanors at local prisons, whereas previously these persons went directly to a Department of Corrections facility.

“We have to house them at a local jail before they can go to another Department of Corrections facility,” Gibbs said. This has added about $40,000 to the budget.

Then there are other threats the county is facing, such as fighting higher ferry tolls, the institution of beach-driving permits, and the attempts to give gamefish status to the coastal favorites, red drum, speckled trout, and striped bass, which would make them off limits for commercial fishermen.

Several unfilled employee positions throughout the county will go unfilled under the budget cuts.

Smith said her department heads have worked hard to cut their budgets, do without staff, and live within their means.

One expenditure area that has gone down significantly is trash collection.  A new system implemented in January has taken the county out of the trash collection process and requires all Hyde County residents to take their trash and recyclables to one of six “convenience sites” on the mainland and Ocracoke for disposal.

This has resulted in a $200,000 savings in the trash budget, she said.

Among the other budget cuts is mosquito control on the mainland.  Ocracoke will still have this service since Ocracoke property owners pay a tax for it.

Hyde County schools were cut by $125,000. The full-time public information officer position will be cut to part-time.  Two positions in the Emergency Medical Service department will not be filled, and the department will go another year without getting a new ambulance.

The sheriff asked for four new patrol cars at $100,000, but that request was denied.

Animal control in the county was cut to only mandated activities, such as rabies and vicious animal control.

In other business, the commissioners approved a revision to the animal control ordinance, which requires owners of domestic animals, such as horses and dogs, to remove feces deposited by their animals.

The ordinance is effective immediately.

Monday’s meeting also included a public hearing on the budget.  Those speaking were the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, Meals on Wheels and the Hyde-Beaufort-Martin Library.

Chamber President Randy Hignite asked the commissioners to reinstate a cut in their appropriations. After discussion, the board agreed to try to find about $10,000 in the budget.  Justin Gibbs, EMS director, offered $5,000 out of his budget, and Smith said she will re-look at the county’s overall phone budget to try to find another $5,000 for them.

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