County Manager Dudley Watts presented a proposed $447 million budget to Forsyth County commissioners on May 28 that lowers the property tax rate by one penny while maintaining services amid the downturn in tax revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Manager’s Recommended Budget reduces spending 2.5 percent, or $11 million, from the current budget. This reflects the estimated loss of 15 percent, or $10 million, in sales tax revenue in the state due to COVID-19. There are no layoffs of county employees, but there is a soft hiring freeze except for vital positions, like public safety. Watts said service levels will be challenged, but the county maintains its commitment to provide good service to all residents.
The proposed budget includes a property tax rate of 74.35 cents, which is a one cent reduction from the current rate. This is because the ¼ cent sales tax referendum to fund local teacher supplements was approved by voters and will go into effect in July. It’s estimated to bring in $11 million under the current economic circumstances, and the budget allocates the first payment to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in August with regular monthly payments after that.
The recommended budget is a balanced continuation budget, which is how much it costs to continue providing county services at their current level. Normally this would include recommendations to meet increasing demands for service, but that was not included this year due to the tighter nature of the budget.
There are still alternate service level requests this year, which are funding requests from departments that the commissioners could decide to include in the budget. There are 84 alternate service levels totalling $34.7 million. These requests were made before the crisis hit, when the economy was still strong. Watts said county department heads understand the difficulty of the current situation.
“It is a very difficult budget for them, but it does represent the reality of the circumstances we’re in, “ said Watts.
The recommended budget maintains the county’s fiscal policies of maintaining an 18 percent debt ceiling, 14 percent target fund balance and debt leveling. It included $3 million from the state COVID-19 Relief Fund.
The reduction in sales tax revenue also negatively affects the county’s school funding formula so funding for WS/FC Schools will be reduced by nearly $2.8 million from the current fiscal year, not including the revenue from the ¼ cent sales tax.
The Budget process will continue with these remote commissioner meetings:
If the budget isn’t adopted by the commissioners on June 11, they would consider it at their 2 p.m. meeting on June 18. The budget will go into effect on July 1.
Commissioners meetings are televised live and live streamed on WSTV and are live streamed on the county’s Facebook and Vimeo accounts. They are also available on the Forsyth County website later in the day. The proposed budget is available for review in the County Commissioners’ Office at the Government Center, on the Budget Department webpage at forsyth.cc/Budget/, and copies will also be distributed to county libraries.