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County Manager proposes first decrease to Macon’s tax rate in 16 years; increases funding for public safety and education

*Editor’s note: This is the FIRST in a series of articles breaking down the proposed 2023-24 county budget. This is a very broad, very general article regarding the proposed budget focusing on budget highlights. Articles that will follow will include more in-depth specifics and explanations. 

Macon County Manager Derek Roland unveiled his proposed 2023-24 fiscal year budget Tuesday night, giving county leaders and the general public the first look into the county’s finances following the recent property reevaluation. 

The budget as proposed is $64,566,978 and calls for establishing the “revenue neutral” tax rate of 27 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, which would result in Macon County having the lowest ad‐valorem property tax rate in the State of North Carolina. The proposed tax rate of 27 cents per $100 of assessed value would be a 13-cent decrease to the current tax rate of 40 cents and marks the first time a decrease to Macon’s ad valorem tax rate has been considered since 2007. Not only is Roland requesting the first ad valorem decrease in nearly two decades, but the tax rate he proposed would also return rates to levels not seen since 2010. 

“At the time of this budget message, the local economy in Macon County remains strong,” said Roland. “Growth in population of 1.3% from 2021‐2022 has far outpaced average growth in the seven-county western region at .2% during this period. Population growth has been accompanied by economic development…”Revenue increases in the FY 24’ Budget are largely a product of local economic growth. Growth in the tax base will result in increases to ad valorem tax collections and increases in the purchase of goods and services by residents and tourists alike will lead to increases in sales tax revenue.”

The proposed budget of $64.5 million is roughly $5.5 million more than Macon’s current fiscal year budget of $59,047,113. 

Budget Overview

The proposed budget will provide needed funding in order to be able to increase law enforcement coverage, increase coverage in animal services, place additional staff in the 911 Center to address increased call volume and add more social workers to address increased caseloads brought about by Medicaid expansion. 

Public Education Spending

Roland is also proposing that operational funding to education be increased for the first time in four years by 10% — a more than $800,000 increase for Macon County Schools. He also recommended the district’s capital outlay funding be increased by 9 percent to include just over $850,000 to replace the Highlands School soccer field. 

“At a projected average daily membership of 4,433 students in the coming fiscal year, county per pupil appropriation for current expense will increase to $2,187 per pupil at the FY 24’ recommended level,” said Roland. “According to the most recent information available from the Department of Public Instruction, Macon County ranked 51st out of 116 school districts in per pupil appropriation for current expense in FY 22’ at $2,031 per pupil. The state average per pupil appropriation for current expense per the FY 22’ DPI report was $2,409 per pupil.”

County Employee Salary

The budget includes a proposal for all county employees to receive salary adjustments in‐line with those proposed across the state and region which would include both a COLA (cost of living adjustment) and a STEP increase for employees. 

“The ability to recruit and retain highly qualified employees continues to be a top priority for the organization in the coming fiscal year,” said Roland. “Beginning with pay study implementation in 2021, Macon County has gone to great lengths to bring our pay scale to a regionally competitive level and furthermore to ensure salaries within the pay scale adequately reflect the employee’s skill level and experience in position and this budget continues to do that while also including incentives to address employee retention and recruitment.”

New County Positions

Six new full‐time positions with county departments have been recommended in FY 24’, however much of the funding needed for these positions was made possible through attrition of other means within the respective departments’ budget. The new positions will include two new positions with the Sheriff’s Office and four new positions within the Department of Social Services. 

“When asking for new positions, Department Heads must justify their requests showing how the additional positions will increase the efficiency and/or effectiveness of their operation. FY 24’ new positions will result in an overall budget increase of $496,238 that will be completely reflected in the Human Services Function. Of this amount, approximately $215,612 will be offset by increased revenue resulting from Medicaid expansion.”

Capital Recommendations

To address the county’s infrastructure needs, Roland proposed an increase in capital expenditures for the replacement of critical IT network infrastructure, an ambulance replacement, improvements to the county’s most heavily utilized facilities, and expansion of recreation opportunities for residents, including funding for pickleball courts. 

Fund Balance

State and federal COVID‐19 relief funding offset expenditures within certain functions of the operating budget for Macon County throughout the pandemic, resulting in a revenue surplus in the general fund. According to Roland, COVID19 funding, paired with revenue growth from sales tax combined with growth in ad valorem tax, driven by development and increasing sales prices, the proposed budget increases the county’s fund balance from $36.1 million or 61 percent to $42.4 million, an estimated 68 percent of expenditures. 

“Aside from financial certainty, a healthy fund balance will play a key role in our ability to move forward with major capital projects in the coming fiscal year,” said Roland. 

Despite the increase in the county’s overall expenditures, Roland stated his recommendations are justified and needed to continue providing services for residents and tourists alike.

“Increased revenues in FY 24’ represent the funding necessary to meet the increased demands of today nothing more, nothing less,” said Roland. “Revenue growth has been budgeted conservatively, and increases in expenditures are reflective of where the organization needs them most. We will remain financially secure, largely free from economic uncertainty and continue providing the best public services to the taxpayers of Macon County at what is now the best price tag in the state.”

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