Health officials to focus on vaccinations
DOBSON – District officials, like leaders around the world, have worried over the past year about how to plan an annual budget in the early stages of a global pandemic.
Would the Surry County Board of Commissioners need to cut costs to avoid deficits in real estate and sales tax collection? Or would this turn out to be Chicken Little telling everyone the sky is falling?
So far, the budget impact of COVID-19 has been less than feared.
Last May, district chief Chris Knopf told commissioners that all funding requests from groups such as school districts and nonprofit groups had raised the starting point for the 2020-21 budget to $ 87.28 million, well above the $ 80.49 million in that budget 2019-20 back then.
Not only did button cut the preliminary requests to a similar budget area, the district manager went further, dropping a total of $ 78,866,000 below the prior year.
He told the board that by the time the pandemic hit Surry County, his staff had already submitted their individual departmental budgets. He returned these documents and asked them to expect a 10% reduction across the board.
In some cases, this has meant postponing necessary costs such as replacing an ambulance. In other cases it meant not doing a project or an expected hiring.
In fact, the county has cut several worker positions. Sandy Snow, assistant district manager and head of human resources, said last June that 17 jobs have been affected by a force cut.
Don Mitchell, county facility director, and Myron Waddell, EMS assistant director, both announced their retirement, but several others have been fired.
The rationale at the time was simple: Sure, people would probably keep paying their property taxes because nobody wants a tax lien on property. However, accommodation at home would greatly reduce the amount of money people spend on tourism to Mayberry and the local vineyards. And with many businesses still closed in June, officials assumed less would be spent locally (where sales taxes collected would be shared with local governments).
The next six months were eye opening.
Not only were property taxes paid as normal, but sales tax collections from July through November (the last month the state of Surry provided revenue shares) are actually higher than last year.
Knopf informed the commissioners that sales taxes would be collected at the point of sale and sent to Raleigh. It takes three months for the local portion of these taxes to be paid out.
In June, all he knew was that March 2020 was actually 4.2% up on March 2019, as people had supplies when they went to shelter. It was also a common sight to see people at Lowe’s Home Improvement and other such stores buying supplies for home renovations, home improvement projects, and home gardens.
Then April was 2.4% lower than last year, but still $ 213,000 higher than the previous month – from about $ 1.52 million to $ 1.73 million.
May and June were nearly identical as those two months averaged $ 1.74 million. Then the totals in July and August were even higher, while September was practically the same as the previous year.
Many companies, such as Amazon, started offering early Christmas deals instead of Thanksgiving in October. This caused sales tax to rise 27.4% in October while November fell slightly by less than one percent.
Knopf said this local boom was due to where people did their shopping in 2020.
In the early days of e-commerce, businesses didn’t levy sales tax on transactions. In fact, they may not even know what condition the customer lived in.
Nowadays, when this tax is collected online, the place where the customer lives is classified as a point of sale.
“As citizens increase their online purchases from home rather than traveling out of the county for the same goods and services, this has made up for some of the expected loss of revenue that caused the economy to shut down last spring,” Knopf said Friday how some residents traveled to Winston-Salem or Greensboro for shopping days.
The additional online sales, he said, “… prevented the county from considering additional budget cuts this fiscal year.”
Based on the chart provided to the board of directors, sales tax revenue increased more than $ 872,000 from July through November.
This is good news after Knopf last year slated its budget for an expected 12% drop in sales tax.
In establishing that number, the district chief said he listened to estimates from several agencies such as the NC League of Municipalities.
• An unexpected surge in local revenue was the surge in alcohol sales. As people spend more time at home, shopping at all four ABC branches in the county has increased over the past year.
In fact, Pilot Mountain didn’t even budget an expected sales tax loss, as the board found that the increase in alcohol income made the difference.
At the February 1 meeting, Penny Harrison, the county tax administrator, briefed the county government on how property taxes are being collected for fiscal 2020-21.
Harrison said she was looking for a board motion to instruct her to advertise on the Mount Airy News for accounts that had not yet made their annual payments.
Sending overdue notices helped a lot, Harrison said, when “about 2,000 people actually paid in January”. What is not paid, the tax department advertises in the newspaper annually in hopes of reaching taxpayers who may not have seen the declarations sent to the homes.
Harrison said the department would give people one last chance to catch up before advertising. The final notices have been sent out so people know they will have to pay the balance before the end of the month.
“We’ll have about 3,000 letters this month. Hopefully a lot of people will pay, ”she said. What is left will be advertised in mid-March.
Regarding unpaid taxes, she said: “As you can see, it has decreased enormously compared to previous years. Therefore, our collection rate has increased significantly this year. We hope for a really good year. “
“Obviously these numbers seem to be significantly better than some of the previous years from 2015 to 2016 that you show here on your sheet,” said Commissioner Eddie Harris. “I’m just curious what that is due to.”
“We noticed a lot of people came in with their stimulus check – they told us,” she replied.
“That was my guess there,” said Harris.
The county has a tax rate of 58.2 cents per $ 100 valuable property, which resulted in a tax levy of just over $ 32 million.
By the end of January 2020, the county had raised all but $ 1.55 million of that $ 32 million. On February 1, Harrison said the county was way ahead of that pace, at just $ 1.28 million.
At the August meeting, Harrison said tax revenue for 2019-20, which closed in June, is 98.61%. This continued a strong history of local collections.
In June 2019, the county announced that property tax revenue was $ 31,671,219, or 98.83% of the total.
“The people of Surry County are hard working people who don’t complain, pay their taxes and pay them properly,” said Commissioner Tucker upon hearing the numbers.
The state allows the tax office to collect collections for up to 10 years. Harrison showed that in some later years this collection rate increased in the high region of 99%.
Any unexpected tax revenue at the moment can only help the county as estimates have increased for the construction of a new county jail discussed over the past three years.