In a unanimous decision, the Alexander County Board of Commissioners marked a significant milestone by adopting the county’s budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 during its June 20th meeting. This financial blueprint, totaling $53,653,167, carries an important message – it comes without any local tax hikes or additional charges, with the exception of a modest 3 percent increase in water charges implemented by the Town of Hickory.
County Manager Rick French presented the proposed budget at the May 16th meeting. Following this presentation, a public hearing was conducted on June 6, followed by a budget work session on June 13.
“We considered reducing the property tax rate in this budget, but given the uncertainty in the national economy and rising inflation, we decided to postpone any such action until the 2023-2024 budget after the county undergoes the revaluation process,” stated Ronnie Reese, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners. “Alexander County is in a strong financial position, and we want to ensure it remains so, enabling us to provide the best possible services to our citizens.”
The budget presented by Mr. French includes a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for county employees and an increased allocation for Alexander County Schools.
Moreover, this budget introduces several new positions across various county departments. These include roles such as Assistant County Supervisor, Planner, Accounting Assistant, License Plate Agency staff, Paralegal, Environmental Health staff, Dental Assistant, Animal Control Officer, and Park Assistant, as well as part-time and seasonal positions within the Parks and Recreation Department for Wittenburg Access Area and Alexander County Courthouse Park. Additionally, a part-time office assistant in the Soil & Water office will be reclassified as a full-time position.
The financial plan also earmarks funding for several capital items, demonstrating the county’s commitment to infrastructure and service improvements. These items include investments in fiber and web networking, vehicle replacements, the 9-1-1 radio system and equipment, replacement of a courthouse boiler, an ambulance remount, a power lift for EMS, and replacement of the sheriff’s office evidence building roof.
In addition to the existing fire district property taxes, the budget allocates $63,000 from the county’s general fund to each of the county’s eight volunteer fire departments. The county aims to increase funding to these fire departments each year, especially if a ¼-cent local sales tax is approved.
Key Highlights from the Meeting
During the meeting, the Board of Commissioners also addressed several other important matters:
- Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program (StRAP) Grant: The Alexander County Soil & Water Conservation District was awarded a $384,805 grant from StRAP to assist in the cleanup efforts following the November 2020 flooding. While the grant will help with the top three or four sites, it is essential to note that approximately 35 individuals applied for funding, with requests totaling $2.4 million. Commissioners unanimously voted to sponsor the StRAP funds for stream debris removal, with a full reimbursement of 100 percent from the grant.
- Emergency Mass Notification Services: The board approved an agreement with Hyper-Reach to provide emergency mass notification services for Alexander County. Fire Marshal Mark Earle highlighted that Hyper-Reach would replace the OnSolve/CodeRed system that the county had used for several years. The new system offers enhanced services and a more user-friendly interface at an annual cost of $8,200 for three years, representing savings of approximately $1,000 per year. While the transition to the new system is advantageous, citizens and businesses will need to re-register to continue receiving notifications.
- Tax-Exempt Loan for Stony Point Volunteer Fire Department: The board held a public hearing to consider accepting a tax-exempt loan from First Community Bank for the Stony Point Volunteer Fire Department’s purchase of a 2024 Pierce Saber fire truck. The request was unanimously approved.
- Vaya Health Update: Zack Shepherd, Vaya Health Community Relations Regional Director, provided an update on Vaya Health’s expanded service areas following its consolidation with Cardinal Innovations. Vaya Health now serves a total of 31 counties, including Alexander County. Shepherd also shared insights into the NC Department of Health and Human Services Child & Family Specialty Program (CFSP) and its potential impact on foster care services.
In the County Manager’s Report, Mr. French revealed that Alexander County had been awarded a Rural Transformation Grant from NC Commerce, amounting to $650,000. This grant will fund the renovation of county property located at 16 West Main Avenue in Taylorsville.
Empowering the Future of Alexander County
The adoption of the 2022-2023 county budget underscores Alexander County’s commitment to its residents. With a balanced budget that avoids tax increases and invests in essential services, the county is poised to continue its journey toward progress and prosperity. Through strategic financial planning and thoughtful resource allocation, Alexander County is well-positioned to navigate the challenges of today while building a brighter future for all its citizens.