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.”