In a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, the Burke County Board of Commissioners approved the upcoming county budget that drops the tax rate, provides more school and community college funding, gives a boost to employee pay and allows for building some essential facilities.
The $99.8 million 2023-24 fiscal budget has a tax rate of 56 cents per $100 of property value, down from 69.5 cents per $100 of property value in the current year budget that will end June 30. The 2023-24 budget starts July 1.
After a public hearing Tuesday that heard from those in favor and against the budget, Commissioner Phil Smith was the lone vote against it. While he voted against approving the budget, Smith voted for a memorandum of agreement with the Burke County Board of Education. The agreement was necessary for the school system to receive the $18.5 million allocated to it in the county budget. The $18.5 million budget is $2.2 million more than the current fiscal year allocation for the school system.
While no officials from the school system were at the commissioners meeting Tuesday, school officials thanked the board for the increased funding.
In a release sent out Thursday, the school board and Superintendent Mike Swan said by approving the $18.5 million, commissioners helped solidify the district’s mission to educate all learners, nurture their potential and empower them to be contributing members to the community.
But it wasn’t school funding that seemed to bring out those who spoke against the budget during the public hearing. While the budget dropped the tax rate from 69.5 cents to 56 cents, most of the speakers against the budget said the property revaluation that was done this year would mean a tax increase. They requested a revenue neutral rate, which is 52 cents per $100 of property value.
Many speaking in favor of the budget were animal supporters and rescuers who have long been advocating for a new animal shelter. The shelter is around 50 years old and no longer meets the needs of the animals or the public, some who spoke said.
The county has already started efforts to build a new animal shelter along with a new EMS base. A new animal shelter is estimated to cost $5.5 million, with the new EMS base estimated at $8 million. The animal shelter and EMS base will be built on a pay-as-you go basis, according to county officials.
The 2023-24 budget also includes a 7.4% increase, along with $450,000 in capital funding, for Western Piedmont Community College for a total funding of $3.3 million.
Burke water users will see their water rate go up to $6.50 per 1,000 gallons, with the basic monthly service fee of $25. And the household solid waste fee will increase to $88.
Property owners in the Triple Community Fire District will pay more in the coming year, going from 7 cents to 10 cents per $100 of property value.
However, those living the Salem Fire Rescue and Oak Hill Fire & Rescue districts will be paying less. Folks in the Salem Fire Rescue district will pay 7 cents per $100 of property value, down from 10 cents, while the Oak Hill Fire & Rescue district property owners will pay 8 cents per $100 of property value, down from 9 cents.
As for county employees, they will see a 5% cost-of-living increase and an increase to their 401K contribution from the county go from 2% to 5%. Those increases total an additional $2.2 million, according to the budget.
The budget also calls for 11 new positions that means an additional $700,000. Those positions include five new positions for EMS at an additional $250,000 a year, two new positions for animal services at an additional $80,000 a year, two new positions for budget, strategy and performance at an additional $205,000 a year, one new position for human services at an additional $85,000 a year and one new position for public health at an additional $80,000 a year.
To watch the commissioners Tuesday meeting, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMqR0Ky8thk.