Yates: County shows growth, recovery

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 05:40 PM

Commissioners heard good news and bad during the first of several workshops about the next fiscal year’s budget Thursday.

County Finance Director Jeff Yates told the board that the county was in good fiscal health. Union County weathered the recession with a few lean years, but growth was returning. But those gains are delicate and might falter if the economy sours again.

In 2012, the county made about $11.4 million over projected revenues.

“This reflects some reduction in services, some reduction in personnel,” County Manager Cindy Coto said. Though early projections showed little or no revenue growth, the fiscal year ended with an unanticipated reserve.

But in 2013, the rising cost of employee benefits and a higher demand for public services will outpace modest growth. In 2014, Yates estimated Union County will have a $2.5 million deficit. By 2020, that gap is estimated to grow to $8.3 million.

“While ($2.5 million) seems like a large number ... I think that’s a manageable number at this point,” Yates said. Each year, that $2.5 million deficit repeats, he said, but the county can likely find fixes to narrow that gap.

Fiscal indicators also show spending trends over time. Revenues per capita were $467 in 2008 and rose to $572 in 2012. Meanwhile, expenditures per capita were $887 in 2008 and fell to $552 in 2012.  The number of residents on public assistance per 1,000 of the population rose from 142 in 2008 to 195.2 last year.

A majority of county revenue comes from residential property taxes. In turn, the housing market determines the revenue stream’s stability, Yates said.

Over the next five years, Yates projected the county increasing its employee pay to account for inflation and merit-based raises. Benefits for both current and retired employees will nearly double. And officials are still not sure how implementation of Obamacare will affect expenses, Yates said.

“They’re writing regulations on that right now,” he said.

The general fund will grow, but its health depends on housing and other markets.

As the budgeting process continues, Yates said the commissioners will be asked to evaluate the county’s current service level and decide if that level is enough to meet future demand.

Commissioners charged county staff with developing the budget while focusing on solid waste planning, renewal of the contract for ambulance service through Carolinas Healthcare Systems, school funding, fire department funding, debt management and future building projects.