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Mitchell County Budget:Board explains benefits of tax increase

BAKERSVILLE – The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners during a special meeting this past Monday approved the county’s budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The approval of the budget passed with four out of five votes and came after extensive deliberation. Initially, all commissioners present voted against the budget that calls for $20,818,586 for the operation of the county government and its activities.

The top-three expenditures in the budget are human services ($7,669,811), public safety ($4,121,166) and education ($3,502,324).

A property tax rate of $0.58 per $100 valuation of property will be levied to meet the budget, representing a $0.05 increase from the last fiscal year.

The county is also funding a new ambulance and the 1:1 lease with Apple that provides schools with laptops.

Board Chair Vern Grindstaff said the tax increase was a difficult decision.

“We spent two days at a budget retreat working on this budget,” Grindstaff said. “In my three years serving on this board, this is the first budget put before us with a proposed tax increase. I am conflicted because I recognize the difficulties we have as citizens paying our taxes.

“I’m just like the rest of you. I have my taxes set up on a monthly draft to make sure they’re paid on time. It’s difficult, but we do have services that we must provide for our citizens.”

The tax increase did not please commissioner Ken Hollifield. He supported a small increase to sales tax to fund the ambulance, but the increase did not get majority vote by the public in November election.

“I’m going to vote against this budget because it’s going to put a burden on the taxpayers in Mitchell County,” Hollifield said. “I’ve had a lot of calls from the senior citizens and people who are struggling and I just don’t see putting this burden on them.”

The commissioners unanimously voted against the budget, but Grindstaff urged the commissioners to reach an agreement while still in open session.

“I’d like to see the board unanimous on this budget,” Grindstaff said. “We sat at that budget workshop and we went line by line down that budget.”

Commissioner Danny Burleson suggested making major cuts could be necessary.

“I’ve been in business all of my life and when there’s not any money coming in, what’s the other option?,” Burleson said. “Cut is all we can do. We have to start chipping away and I don’t believe in chipping away at one thing. If we are going to chip, we’re going to have to chip it all.”

Grindstaff acknowledged Burleson’s suggestion but pointed out the challenge of cutting this year with the ambulance and Apple lease on the books.

“Where do we cut?,” Grindstaff asked. “We decided we wanted to fund the ambulance and we have to pay for that. We decided we wanted to fund 1:1 because we believe in the children and their futures and we have to pay for it somehow.”

Commissioner Keith Holtsclaw made a motion to pass the budget right before adjournment. Grindstaff, Burleson and commissioner Jacob Willis voted in agreement, allowing adoption of the budget.

“This budget is very tight,” Willis said. “Even with the increase in taxes, it’s very important that we stay within our budget because if we don’t we’ll be looking at another increase.

“Hopefully in the next year to two years, we will be able to save some money and not have to see taxes raised even more because it is a financial burden.”

Hollifield voted against the budget the second time and was the lone dissenter.

In addition to adopting the budget, the board unanimously approved a resolution to be sent to Mission Health about the recent decision to end labor and delivery services at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine.

“This board is concerned to learn of the recent decision by Blue Ridge Regional Hospital and Mission Healthcare to terminate labor and delivery services at the Spruce Pine facility,” according to the resolution. “This board recognizes that maternity care may be slightly more expensive to provide in a rural community, but those costs are outweighed by the dangers and challenges to our citizens who travel such a great distance for care and access to a birthing center.

“The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners respectfully requests Blue Ridge Regional Hospital and Mission Health to reconsider their decision and to continue providing those services in Spruce Pine for the medical necessity and safety of our citizens.”

The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners adopted a 2017-2018 budget that includes a 5 cent per $100 valuation tax increase. That increase will generate $841,564.10 in additional revenue. The primary new expenditures are: • The addition of a third ambulance cost the county $286,000 including operation and staffing cost. That expenditure was necessary to ensure that at least one ambulance was always present in Mitchell County to respond to emergencies. • Mitchell County Commissioners decided to fully fund the 1:1 Initiative. This will provide every student in the Mitchell County Public Schools with an electronic device. This resulted in additional expenditures of $272,563. • Mitchell County Commissioners funded the hiring of one teacher in Science, Technology, Electronics and Mathematics, or STEM, at the cost of $66,261. • Mitchell County had an increase in the budget of Mitchell County Department of Social Services of $473,216.00 over the amount budgeted for the department for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. This increase was caused primarily by a significant increase in the number of children taken into Social Services custody and placed in foster care. • This spring the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners abolished the Board of Social Services and assumed oversight of the Department. Serious efforts are being made to limit cost increases in the future. • These expenditures alone amount to $1,098,040. Additional funds of $256,475.90 were transferred from existing Fund Balance to pay for these cost alone. Without the tax increase the entire $1,098,040 would have come from Fund Balance. A lot of thought and consideration was given before a decision was reached on increasing the tax rate. The Board appreciates all of its taxpayers and recognize the impact a tax increase has on all of its taxpayers. The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners strives to provide the citizens of Mitchell County the best service at the lowest cost possible.

The MItchell News

Mailing Address: PO Box 339 
Spruce Pine, NC 28777 
Phone: 828-765-7169
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