Forsyth County commissioners OK $405.1 million budget

Forsyth County Commissioners (from left) Everette Witherspoon, Vice Chair Gloria D. Whisenhunt, Chairman Richard Linville, Bill Whiteheart and Walter Marshall observe a moment of silence at the beginning of their meeting on Monday, May 12, 2014 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

Forsyth County Commissioners (from left) Everette Witherspoon, Vice Chair Gloria D. Whisenhunt, Chairman Richard Linville, Bill Whiteheart and Walter Marshall observe a moment of silence at the beginning of their meeting on Monday, May 12, 2014 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — In a 5-2 vote Thursday, the Forsyth County commissioners approved a $405.1 million general fund budget for 2014-15 that leaves the property tax rate unchanged, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Commissioners Mark Baker, Richard Linville, Dave Plyler, Gloria Whisenhunt and Bill Whiteheart voted in favor of the budget, which maintains a property tax rate of 71.68 cents for every $100 of taxable property.

Commissioners Walter Marshall and Everette Witherspoon were opposed, criticizing the level of funding for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

The board majority opted to stick with County Manager Dudley Watts’ recommended allocations for those two departments, failing to add new deputies or additional funding for schools. Watts proposed a budget with no major additions in keeping with the commissioners’ request to avoid a tax increase.

Marshall fought again to add $25,000 for the National Black Theatre Festival, but it was not included. Plyler said he was disappointed that it was left out but ultimately voted in favor of the budget, saying he did not have a problem with the included items.

The adopted budget reflects an increase of $5.3 million or 1.3 percent from last year’s budget of $399.8 million.

The commissioners added $3.9 million to Watts’ $401.2 million proposal, but only about $300,000 is recurring. Most of the additions are from a “wish list” Whisenhunt presented as a starting point for discussions at the Wednesday budget meeting.

The additions include $3.6 million for renovations at Forsyth Technical Community College; $57,300 more to fully finance Senior Services at $150,000; $58,782 for an internal auditor position; $117,206 for two school health nurses; $96,445 to save three Safe on Seven positions; and $10,000 for a spay and neuter program.

The county will pay for the additions by using most of its capital maintenance reserve funds and funds from the sale of beds at the Springwood Care Center, as well as the remaining incentive money clawed back from Dell Inc.

During the meeting on Thursday, Marshall said there should have been more discussion on using Dell money for that purpose. He also accused the board majority of “back door” meetings during a short recess in the Wednesday budget meeting, which the commissioners denied.

Whisenhunt said the Forsyth Tech project was an appropriate use of the Dell money, because it will allow the college to expand its manufacturing learning facility.

Last year the board used Dell money to give Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools an extra $1.4 million appropriation to make up for a loss in revenue that affected the school funding formula, but the board did not extend that appropriation.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will receive $113.75 million, about $680,000 less than last year’s allocation. The budget does not include a $600,000 match for technology that Superintendent Beverly Emory had requested.

Also, the budget does not finance the sheriff’s office request for 43 new positions, though Watts said the county could use contingency funds to help finance community policing positions in the Mini COPS program if towns request them.

“As a conservative Republican sheriff I support low taxes, but never at the expense of public safety. This budget ignores our documented staffing needs and places citizens and personnel at higher risk,” Sheriff Bill Schatzman said afterward.

The budget does provide for county employee performance adjustments of 2 percent on average.

The commissioners also approved fire tax increases for the Lewisville/West Bend Service District, Walkertown Fire Tax District and Rural Hall Suburban Fire Tax District. Lewisville’s rate will go from 7.4 to 7.8 cents, Rural Hall from 8.6 to 9.6 cents and Walkertown from 8.7 to 9.5 cents. Mineral Springs and Old Richmond did not receive their requested increases.

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