County Manager Rick Hester has given Johnston commissioners a $201 million budget proposal that keeps the current property-tax rate but hikes utility fees.
The $201 million total is $6 million, or 2.9 percent, more than the current fiscal year. Hester said economic growth would provide about 72 percent of the extra revenue.
Based on recent listings, Hester expects property-tax revenue to increase by $2.8 million to $104.1 million in the year ahead. Current spending trends, meanwhile, show sales-tax revenue climbing by $1.5 million to $31.3 million.
“What it says to me is that the county is still growing, and the economy is growing,” Hester said.
The proposed fee increases affect various water and sewer services. In the proposed budget:
▪ The water-meter fee jumps $25 to $240 in order to cover the actual cost of the meters.
▪ The rate rural water districts pay the county for water, billing and maintenance increases 10 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.25. But the districts are likely to be able to absorb that increase without passing it on to customers.
▪ The cost to dispose of waste from septic tanks goes up $10 per ton to $24.
▪ The bulk sludge-disposal rate rises $150 per ton to $850.
The proposed budge also raises the rates residential customers pay for water in order to promote conservation. Here’s the proposed rate structure:
▪ For the first 4,000 gallons, the rate remains at its current level of $3.25 per 1,000 gallons.
▪ For 5,000 to 9,000 gallons, the rate goes to $4 per 1,000 gallons.
▪ For 10,000 to 14,000 gallons, the rate goes to $4.75 per 1,000 gallons.
▪ For more than 15,000 gallons, the rate goes to $5.25 per 1,000 gallons.
The budget proposal creates eight new jobs, half of which have starting dates of Jan. 1, 2016. Those jobs include two positions in emergency communications and one in the deeds office. In public works, the budget calls for a new maintenance technician at the water-treatment plant; a similar job in sewage treatment; an accounting technician; and two utility-maintenance workers for water and sewer construction.
For current county employees, the budget proposes a 2.25-percent raise and funding for an internal-pay classification review.
Johnston County schools requested large funding increases, but the proposal includes only modest bumps. The school board asked for $57.9 million for operating expenses, but the proposal allocates only $53.2 million. For capital outlay, the schools asked for $2.4 million, while Hester recommends $1 million. Compared to the current year, the proposal gives the schools $1 million more for operations and $30,000 more for capital spending.
While Hester recommended giving the school system $6 million less than it asked for, his budget proposal shaves just $5,000 from the total amount requested by Johnston Community College. Even then, the proposal increases JCC’s current expense funding by $95,000 to $1.1 million and keeps capital outlay at $500,000.
Copies of the budget proposal are available for review in the county manager’s office at the Johnston County Courthouse.
Residents will have an opportunity to share their opinions on the spending plan at a public hearing at 10 a.m. June 1. Commissioners will then schedule a couple of meetings to work through the budget and make any changes. In the past, the board has held those at 6 p.m. so the public may attend without missing work, Hester said.
Altogether, Hester said his budget proposal meets the two requirements that commissioners have given him. Those are maintaining the property tax rate at 78 cents per $100 of valuation and keeping cash reserves above 15 percent of spending. Based on conservative estimates, Hester said his proposal will put reserves at 16 percent or more at the end of next fiscal year.
“It’s always very challenging, but I think this is a pretty solid budget,” he said.