Johnston County Commissioners on Monday adopted a 2014-15 budget with a handful of changes, including more money for schools.
The $189.3 million spending plan is up 4 percent from the $182 million county government spent in 2013-2014. It’s up slightly from the $188.1 million that County Manager Rick Hester proposed for the year ahead.
Spending will grow thanks to growth in property-tax receipts. But the county’s savings will remain at 15 to 16 percent of spending, Hester said. To maintain its favorable credit ratings, commissioners require the county’s savings account, or fund balance, to be at least 15 percent of spending.
The spending plan adopted Monday could still change. Depending on what state lawmakers do with their budget, commissioners might have to find more money for county-paid teachers and for Medicaid.
On Monday, commissioners agreed to give the county’s public schools $53.15 million, with $1 million earmarked for capital projects. That’s up slightly from the $52.5 million Hester recommended but short of the $57.6 million the schools had sought. In 2013-14, the county gave the schools $52.4 million, so the increase for the year ahead is 1.4 percent.
Also on Monday, commissioners gave Johnston Community College $4.45 million, with $500,000 set aside for capital projects.
After JCC asked for $4.6 million, Hester recommended $4.3 million, up from $4.2 million in 2013-14.
College president David Johnson then appealed to the commissioners to provide more money for more security and to replace an aging phone system.
Commissioners approved a 15-cent increase in all water rates. Hester recommended the increase to fund a capital-improvement program commissioners approved last year to prepare Johnston’s water infrastructure for the future.
For rural customers who buy water directly from the county, the usage rate will increase from $3.10 per 1,000 gallons to $3.25. On average, customers use about 5,000 gallons a month, so the increase will cost them 75 cents a month, or about $9 a year.
For towns that buy water in bulk from the county, the rate will climb from $2 per 1,000 gallons to $2.15. Farmers who use county water for irrigation will pay $4.25 per 1,000 gallons, up from $4.10.
Fire tax increases
Commissioners allowed the Brogden Volunteer Fire Department to raise its fire-tax rate one penny, to 8 cents per $100 valuation of real property. The fire tax, which varies by fire department, is on top of the county property tax, which remains at 78 cents per $100 valuation for 2014-15.
Also, commissioners agreed to let the Thanksgiving, Four Oaks and Pine Level fire departments keep their penny increase from last year. Those rates are 9 cents for Thanksgiving and 8 cents for Four Oaks and Pine Level.
Commissioners formally approved $480,000 extra for the Department of Social Services, which will use the money to hire temporary employees to clear a backlog of applications caused by new but balky computer software.
Commissioners approved 2.2-percent pay increases for the county’s 1,100 employees, which will cost taxpayers an extra $1 million.
The county also awarded money to two nonprofits: $20,000 for Harbor, Johnston’s only domestic violence shelter, and $1,500 for the Johnston County Arts Council.
Commissioners approved a $4,000 increase in funding for the Forest Service. At an earlier budget hearing, county ranger Mike Winslow asked for $107,000 instead of the $95,000 Hester recommended. Commissioners approved $99,000. Winslow asked for the extra money to replace a 2006 Ford F-250 and to cover increased costs for employee health insurance and retirement.