Aikmus: Don't rule out tax increase

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 03:56 PM

As a Monday county budget workshop closed, the Union County Board of Commissioner chairman hinted that a tax increase might be necessary to pay for county government operations and capital needs.

Finance Director Jeff Yates presented a 2014-2015 budget with a $26 million deficit. County Manager Cindy Coto stated at a prior workshop that the amount was too large to make up with budget reductions.

When asked for budget direction, Commissioner Todd Johnson said the board does not favor raising taxes.

“I’d be OK to direct you guys but my standpoint a tax increase is off the table,” Johnson said.

“Then I would ask the commissioner where we’re going to find that $26 million?” Chairman Frank Aikmus said.

See tax/page A8

County officials estimate a $26 million deficit in the 2014-2015 budget.

“We have to look at services and we have to turn every stone over before we go that route,” Johnson said.

“I certainly agree, but I think this staff has done that,” Aikmus said.

“Oh, I agree,” Johnson said.

“And I certainly don’t support tax increases but I think we have cut services in this county to the absolute bare bones,” Aikmus said. “And while I appreciate your comment, I think to say a tax increase is off the table, I can’t agree with that.”

“Well, let me change my comment,” Johnson said. “A tax increase is off the table from my standpoint barring some emergency...I think that should be our very last resort. I think we should look at cutting services.”

“I think we all agree with that. It will absolutely be the last resort,” Aikmus said. “But I think we have to explore that option as well.”

Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said the projected budget estimated how much Union County Public Schools would request. He said it would be helpful if UCPS would give the county its budget request earlier than the school’s May deadline.

The county made a similar plan last year, asking for the schools’ capital request a month earlier than the state requires school districts to finalize their budgets. Weeks of testimony centered on the timing of the county’s request. N.C. Department of Public Instruction does not give districts the final budget numbers until the N.C. General Assembly makes the final state budget decision later in the spring. As a result, school districts do not know how much local funding is needed until well after the county finishes its upcoming budget. But Thomas spoke about getting UCPS funding numbers earlier again this year, even though last year’s trial fully explored the limitations in doing that.

“It’d be nice to have that nailed down as quickly as possible. I’m not telling you all and I’m not asking the chair give direction that our staff do it,” Thomas said. “I know the message will get back to them. Everything else gets back to them. I expect that message to get to them and I expect them to come back to us with a number or continue to play the game to put us in a very precarious position.”