When Macon County Manager Derek Roland first presented his proposed budget for 2021-22, he proposed keeping the county’s tax rate of .374 flat with a budget totaling $54,641,096. During a budget work session on Thursday afternoon, after hearing from various departments about needs excluding from Roland’s budget, the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to raise the county’s tax rate from .374 to .40, increasing the county’s budget by $2 million to a total of $56,641,096.
The request was made by Macon County Board Chair Jim Tate who proposed increasing the tax rate enough to generate an additional $2 million in revenue for the county. Chairman Tate proposed taking the additional $2 million and allocating $400,000 to provide county employees with a two percent cost of living adjustment, something not in Roland’s original budget, as well as $600,000 to go toward the county’s pay study implementation that will increase county salaries on average of nine percent to become competitive with neighboring counties.
Chairman Tate proposed the remaining $1 million be spent to provide the Macon County Public Library with $30,000 previously requested to boost salary for their employees, $25,000 for funding for the partnership with the Nikwaski Initiative, $10,000 for Cowee School for infrastructure repairs, with the remaining funding being placed in contingency to be spent as needed for pending capital projects such as refurbishing a building donated to Southwestern Community College, a property just purchased in Nantahala for a potential new community building and to begin generating revenue to fund the costs associated with moving forward with construction of a new Franklin High School.
The vote to increase taxes passed 3-2 with Commissioners Paul Higdon and Josh Young voting against it. Young said he supported raising taxes for the $1 million associated with improving county employee salary, however could not vote for the full $2 million increase without more of a plan on how the funds would be spent.
In addition to possibly raising taxes for future school construction, the Macon County Board of Commissioners are considering moving a portion of the $1.1 million in funding for capital outlay project for the school system into the operations budget for the school system to allow the district to address staffing needs such as art and music positions that have been requested by the public.
Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin spoke to commissioners and noted that the school system is unsure of requirements with how $15 million in federal COVID19 relief funding will be allowed to be spent, but that the district anticipates receiving around $15 million and know that it has to be spent by 2024. Dr. Baldwin said that based on the criteria given by the state, he believes $1.6 million in personnel for art teachers, music teachers, school nurses, and school psychology that were requested as part of the budget request to commissioners, could be funded out of the anticipated $15 million. Roland noted that while the school system figures out how the money can be spent, freeing up half of the school system’s capital outlay funding to be spent on operations will give the school system additional flexibility to meet the needs of the district.
A public hearing on the proposed budget and the tax increase is set for Tuesday, June 8 at 6 p.m. at the Macon County Courthouse in the Commissioners Boardroom. Commissioners are set to approve the budget pending public comment on Tuesday, June 8.