County cuts services to value education
Catawba County plans to cut 29 positions in the coming fiscal year to match the area's continued decrease in overall revenue and operating funds.
All, but one, of the positions are currently vacant.
County Manager J. Thomas Lundy said during the past four years, county reductions have totaled $10.5 million, impacting more than 100 jobs.
Building services, and especially building inspectors, will bear the brunt of the cuts and will see 10 unfilled positions cut for fiscal year 2011-12.
"Building permits have declined more than 25 percent since 2008," Lundy said. "With the permits declining, the revenues have declined, and the demand for service has declined."
Lundy said the county's policy is that Building Services pay for itself through its own revenue. To date, the county has cut 14 Building Services positions since the housing market started to decline in 2008.
Building Services is not the only department with cutbacks that will affect community members. Lundy said reductions of one-stop early voting staff, tax collection clerks and Register of Deeds staff will affect customer service and increase wait times for citizens.
"With building inspectors, we've always had same-day service or next-day service,
but that's probably going to be extended due to the reduction in staff," Lundy said.
The increase in response time stems from a heavier work load. For instance, a Catawba County building inspector will complete 14-16 inspections per day next year compared to the state recommended amount, which is lower.
Despite the increase in workload, Lundy said the quality of county services will not change.
With a lack of funds and staff, the county will continue to invest in private and non-profit organizations in the community by contracting local businesses for services.
"If the private or non-profit sector can provide a service that needs to be provided at the same, or less, cost as the county, and they can do it as well as, or better, then we have no business being in that business," Lundy said.
The county will contract about $13 million in services throughout the next fiscal year that it could be providing with its staff.
Focusing on education
Despite reductions to many other areas, the county will try to continue its focus on education by maintaining current funding to the three school systems and Catawba Valley Community College.
Lundy said 49 cents of every local dollar raised through property or sales tax will go to Catawba County schools during the 2011-12 fiscal year.
"I'm glad that we're going to be able to maintain the funding we're giving to schools," Lundy said.
To ensure each of the three school systems is funded equally, the county will continue to fund Catawba County, Hickory Public and Newton-Conover City schools by the pupil. The current rate is $1,433 per pupil, according to the proposed FY 2011-12 budget.
Lundy also pointed out that 11 cents from the new 53 cents per $100 of valuation property tax rate goes to school construction. He added that 1 cent from that amount funds school board operations.
Not a done deal
Even if Catawba County commissioners adopt the county's proposed plan, the state's budget will have a large impact on how the money is spent.
Lundy said the state's budget, which will not be finalized until July, can have a "huge" impact on the county.
"We try to estimate as much as possible," Lundy said.
For example, the governor's and house's proposed budgets have more misdemeanants being placed in Catawba County jails, which could possibly cost the county up to $250,000 in FY 2011-12. Even though those budgets are not final, Lundy said they still had to plan for those expenses because they cannot refuse prisoners.
The Commissioners will meet at 8 a.m. May 31 at the 1924 Courthouse. A public hearing about the budget will be held at 7 p.m. June 2, also at the 1924 Courthouse.
The commissioners plan to adopt the budget at 9:30 a.m. June 6 at the 1924 Courthouse.
A full version of the county's proposed budget can be accessed online at catawbacountync.gov.