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Four of six Halifax County commissioners Monday night indicated they would go with a budget option that would set the county’s tax rate at 76 1/2 cents per $100 of value.

In a meeting which was held via the GoToMeeting format to comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, County Manager Tony Brown said it was his recommendation to go with either option 5 or option 6, two of the six budget recommendations he presented to the board during its first budget discussions last week for the fiscal year 2020-21 financial plan.

Those two options address employee pay as a retention and recruitment tool. “We have to get all folks higher so we can be competitive,” he said.

Option 6 would use $2,368,425 of unassigned fund balance.

There will be an increase in the tax revenue to the county even though there will be a decrease in the tax rate based on the recent valuation of real property.

The proposed 76 1/2 cent tax rate would generate $990,000. 

This option would fund additional needed capital in the amount of $137,000; $1,000 bonuses for full-time employees and $500 bonuses for part-time employees at a total cost of $700,000 and pending outside requests of $21,700.

The proposal would give employees a market adjustment of 2 percent; an employee step adjustment of 1.25 percent; and an employee performance pay plan.

Option 6 would also fund an additional 12-hour EMS crew in Scotland Neck while option 5 would not. 

Commissioners directed Brown to prepare the budget using option 6.

Commissioner Linda Brewer could not attend the meeting because of a prior commitment.

Commissioner Patrick Qualls did not commit to either of the options.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’ve studied this thing for a week and I’m committed we have to do something for the employees, however, we’re staring into the abyss and it worries me greatly. Raising revenue in this condition is very, very worrisome and as a result of that I don’t know. That’s the best I can answer.”

Qualls confirmed this morning he was referring to the unknown economic impacts of the novel coronavirus. “Nobody has a clue what this economy is going to be like six months from now.  I’m scared to death to raise taxes on people whose economic future is uncertain at best.”

To not raise taxes in a year where property values increased during the revaluation, the county would have to approve a 73 ½ cent tax rate, therefore if option 6 is adopted there would be a 3-cents per $100 valuation tax adjustment.

Board Chairman Vernon Bryant said he was in favor of option 6. 

“The whole focus of all the options without a shadow of a doubt is all about the employees,” Bryant said this morning. “Regardless of which option, we want to make a difference for employees. We want to retain our employees. More specifically we’re talking about bonuses, step increases and market adjustments.”

Bryant said beyond the matters addressing employees, is the additional 12-hour EMS crew for Scotland Neck. “That’s a part of the county that’s been lacking. That’s a part of the county that’s really been suffering. We want to let the people know the county cares about the health and welfare of the people.”

Said Bryant: “There is no doubt in my mind option 6 is the best option. It’s inclusive of everything we want to do for our employees and the 12-hour crew. The mayor of Scotland Neck and Hobgood have asked us to support that.”

The proposed budget, he said, would also fund four vehicles for the sheriff’s office.

The budget presentation will be held at 9:30 a.m., Bryant said, while the public hearing is scheduled for June 1 and budget adoption is scheduled for June 15, both at 9:30 a.m.