By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on May 25, 2021
No tax increase, new EMS spending in 2021-2022 plan
Dare County property owners will see no increase in property taxes under the county’s proposed 2021-2022 General Fund budget of $112.7 million – a spending plan that reflects a $5.6 million increase over last year’s and includes nearly $1 million in funding for eight additional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel to staff future EMS stations in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.
Capital Improvement Projects included in the 2021-2022 proposed budget also include $19.5 million for the new EMS facilities slated for Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills as well as $3 million for the purchase of the Kill Devil Hills EMS station site and the Manteo Youth Center purchase and renovations.
County Manager Bobby Outten presented the proposed budget during the May 17 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, noting that he based numbers off of 2019 revenues and expenditures rather than 2020 numbers due to the anomaly of the COVID-19 pandemic. A public hearing on the plan will be held at the June 7 commissioners’ meeting.
While Outten said that revenues in April and May of 2020 were sluggish due to the pandemic, the county experienced unprecedented revenue rates in sales, occupancy, land transfer tax and register of deeds taxes since June of last year. That influx of dollars once Dare County re-opened to visitors late last spring was so strong that Outten argued against basing future spending on those revenues.
“The worst financial effects of COVID-19 came in April and May of 2020. However, since June of 2020, Dare County has seen a nearly unprecedented visitation and economic activity,” Outten told commissioners during the May 17 meeting. “We’re not using these large growth rates to project growth into the future because they will create recurring costs when those revenue figures die and you’ll have those costs still haunt you,” he noted.
The 2021-22 budget and planned 2023 budget, he added, assumes a return to normal tourism and economic activities levels.
The General Fund tax rate remains unchanged at 40.05 cents per $100 of assessed value, meaning that a property owner with a home assessed at $300,000 will pay roughly $1,200 in county taxes for the upcoming fiscal year if commissioners adopt the budget as it is proposed. Dare County’s new tax base of $16.9 billion is up 4.87 percent from 2021.
Along with the increase in EMS staffing with two additional emergency medical technicians, two paramedics and three lieutenants, there are several other additional county staff positions in the anticipated budget. Those include a new maintenance position in Facilities in Maintenance, fire inspector within the Emergency Management Department, and a youth center assistant position.
Other new expenditures include an additional $81,205 in facility operating costs for the new Dare County Animal Shelter and an additional $128,835 in facility operating costs for the College of the Albemarle building slated to open in 2023. Approximately $61,888 has been earmarked for election workers for upcoming municipal elections as has $47,980 for additional part-time salaries and benefits for the Dare County Sheriff’s Department.
One highlight of the budget is a spending decrease of $1.83 million that Outten described as “mainly from the potential, but not the finalized sale of the Home Health and Hospice certificate of need.” The proposed sale of the county-operated agency to national healthcare provider BrightSpring for $2.9 million has received pushback from some community members and employees of the agency.
The county’s projected 2021-2022 unassigned fund balance – often referred to as a rainy-day fund and which serves as a measure of economic health – is $30.7 million, which represents 27.8 percent of the General Fund revenues. That figure is more than six percent above expected levels.