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Halifax County commissioners will now work with a proposed 76 cents per $100 of value property tax rate for its upcoming fiscal year budget instead of the previously proposed  76 ½ cents rate.

County Manager Tony Brown made that announcement to the board before presenting his budget message to the panel this morning.

The board held its meeting using the GoToMeeting format to comply with social distancing and limits on gatherings during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In his budget message, Brown said, “We have been slowly recovering from a recession since 2007. Unbeknownst to us, we would be facing a new and unprecedented challenge in the spring of 2020 with the onset of COVID-19 ... Fortunately, Halifax County is in a good fiscal position to face this unknown challenge with our fund balance should the economy take an extended downturn.”

Since his tenure began nearly 13 years ago, Brown said, “Halifax County has met the financial goals necessary to be awarded an A+ bond rating. Additionally, our exceptional finance department has been the recipient of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report award for the past 20 years in a row, which continually shows the professional level of service we strive to provide to our citizens.”

The county has a 59.54 percent fund balance which equates to $35,185,027 and well above the 8 percent recommended by the Local Government Commission.

About 61 percent of the fund balance is not available for general use, which limits the county’s cash-on-hand to $13,701,295, funds which are used to address non-recurring needs. “This revenue-based budget has allowed us to weather economic challenges that have occurred and will continue to occur in the future. Our conservative projections and fiscally responsible approach has allowed Halifax County to maintain a healthy overall general fund balance.”

The county has improved each year since the recession of 2007, Brown said. “We have experienced growth in some of our major revenue streams. Unfortunately, our year-to-date sales tax revenue has decreased 6.5 percent compared to this time last year, so we have decreased our sales tax revenue projections for FY 2020-2021. 

“Based on the many challenges we continue to face, I am impressed we are still able to maintain a good collection rate of 97 percent. With our healthy fund balance, I am confident we will have the ability to absorb any potential shortfalls in the budget should the economy take a severe downturn.”

The county continues to have positive motion in its economic development efforts, Brown said. “We have experienced slight growth, but with delays based on the pandemic. With the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s roadwork in the Roanoke Rapids area, the extension of Premier Boulevard to Highway 125 and of American Legion Road to Premier Boulevard, this will be a prime area for additional growth in the county.”

This proposed budget allocates $1,029,700 from fund balance to cover additional human capital needs, general capital needs and also to assist non-profits in their support of community needs. This use of fund balance and tax rate adjustment is in addition to maintaining the cuts and reductions made by departments over the last 11 fiscal years. 

This year’s proposed budget provides additional capital funding for public schools and community college totaling $560,000. 

The proposed financial plan will continue to address pressing capital needs by funding, among other things, debt service payments for Enfield-Inborden School, Manning Elementary School, Social Services facility and Water Service Line construction, in addition to the Solid Waste Transfer Station.

The budget addresses items the county can control, Brown said. “There will always be the potential for changes from both the federal and state government as we progress to a new normal with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What the pandemic has done, Brown said, is it “shows the true commitment our employees have to protecting our citizens, especially those most vulnerable to the ill effects of the virus. I am extremely honored over the commitment we have from our employees and the services we proudly provide. 

“I would like to give a special thanks to public health Director Bruce Robistow, for his untiring efforts to keep the public not only safe, but well informed. Our employees stepped up to the challenge and did a wonderful job, but I want to give special thanks to our courageous public health nurses … They are the real heroes here and deserve special accolades in their handling of the pandemic. I also send kudos to our local hospitals and especially to our own Vidant North hospital.”

The budget will be available for public inspection in the clerk to the board’s office and in all five county public libraries for the required 10 days. Due to the pandemic, and limited access in county offices, contact the clerk’s office or the library branch to schedule an appointment to view a copy or to have a copy made. 

A public hearing will be held on Monday, June 1 at 9:30 a.m. with a final adoption scheduled for Monday, June 15 at 9:30 a.m. The proposed budget will be available on the county’s website

at www.halifaxnc.com.