County services to get review

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 09:22 PM

Commissioners seeking to close a $41 million budget gap now have a possible guide chart.
County Budget Director Michael Halford gave a Board of Commissioners budget committee a look Wednesday at a list of services the county provides, but does not by law have to offer. If all the mostly administrative services were cut, the county could save $30 million of the $40 million the county will pay this year. The chart lists 175 county jobs that could be affected.
The jobs and services range from administrative jobs across several departments to parks and recreation and the money the county provides almost every year to libraries and arts and culture organizations and for business incentives.
“We have the most control in these areas,” said Budget Director Michael Halford, “These are the choices to make in closing the budget gap.”
Every year, commissioners battle over funding for arts, libraries and agency partner groups.
“But this $40 million could leverage $150 million as it pulls down dollars for groups in the community,” said Democratic Commissioner Bruce Davis of High Point. “That is the big picture.  There could be a loss for the community if the county does not fund these groups.”
“We could reduce and not eliminate these things,” said Republican Commissioner Jeff Phillips, budget committee chairman. “We may need to revisit these things for commissioners. It won’t be easy to navigate.”
Republican Commissioner Hank Henning of Jamestown suggested paying more to community partners for services.
“We could pay less overall and get better service,” he said.
Part of the solution will be political and well as practical, said Davis, the veteran commissioner on the committee and the only Democrat.
“There are some groups that do things the county can’t do,” Davis said. “The health department can’t go into the neighborhoods at midnight to counsel people about HIV, but we can fund a group that can.”
Commissioners want to cut costs because tax revenues have stagnated in a slowly recovering economy. The county also has outstanding debts totaling $900 million for new schools and a new downtown Greensboro detention center.
Halford said that the revenue picture offers no great improvements. Property tax collections are on target to raise $349 million.
“In previous years, the collections have been better and we had money to put in the fund balance,” he said. “We are struggling on the sales tax.”
The Great Recession has driven down taxable retail sales in Guilford County from $6.1 billion in 2008 to $5.1 billion in 2010 and the trend shows just a slight upturn to $5.6 billion in 2012. The current sales tax revenue estimate for 2014 is essentially flat at $65 million.
“We may need to reduce our estimate,” Halford said.

Debt: The county debt payment could grow to $106 million in 2014, or 16 percent of the budget. Debt payments won’t drop below 15 percent of the county budget until 2018 unless revenues start to improve greatly. 

Current Budget: $588 million for operations; property tax rate, 78.04 cents per $100 valuation. The owner of a $100,000 house pays $780.04 a year in property taxes.