Commissioners Pass ‘Tight’ Budget

(Editor’s note: this story has been edited to correct an earlier error. — JW)

No nonessential capital projects, no new hiring, and other cuts are part of the Fiscal 24-25 budget approved Monday by county commissioners.

County Manager Eddie Madden said the budget is tight, but maintains the current tax r5ate and does not dip into the county’s reserves. Total from all county operations for this year is $112,282,152, down from last year’s $130,869,354.

Eddie Madden
Columbus County Manager Eddie Madden

Madden highlighted several parts of the budget during Monday’s final presentation, noting that the current budget “is not sustainable” in the long term. Of major concern is the county being one of 18 across the state with a loss of population since 2010. The other 82 saw some growth, Madden said. The data came from a report that was issued this week by the North Carolina Rural Center.

Madden said county officials have appealed the U.S. Census data, and noted that growth is expected to accelerate here in the coming years, due to new developments in the southern end of the county and overall relocation to Columbus.

Ad valorem taxes make up the bulk of the county’s revenues. The county’s property tax rate is 80 cents per $100 valuation. Sales tax revenues are expected to continue to be flat or fall this year, he said. Revenues generated by the sheriff’s office through patrol revenues are also expected to be down $100,000. The detention center’s estimate is down $300,000, but includes $450,000 in revenue from the federal government to house inmates.

The loss of COVID-19 funding cut Health Department’s anticipated revenues by roughly 30 percent. Social Services is seeing an increase in demand, but an eight percent loss in state and federal funding.

Inflation, higher costs and lower revenues in some areas led to “substantial” reductions in all departments, Madden told the board.

“These reductions are essential,” he said, “but this is not sustainable if we are going to continue to provide the services our taxpayers have come to expect.”

Madden emphasized that no new capital projects will be undertaken with local money unless absolutely necessary.

“I’ve had questions from citizens as well as our staff about projects like the Historic Courthouse,” he said. “Funding for that project came from outside sources…special allocations from the state. That’s not local money, and we will not be using local funds for capital projects unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“Without grants and other funds, those projects would never have happened.”

Vehicle purchases will also be frozen except in special circumstances, Madden said. All 61 vacancies in the county payroll will remain open unless department heads can prove the position is necessary.

Madden said that the anticipated growth in population, as well as encouraging more residents to shop local, will counter some of the bad economic news.

“We had to make some hard choices,” he said, and thanked the county finance staff

About Jefferson Weaver 2095 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].