County leaders pass conservative fiscal year budget

The Alamance County Commissioners voted last week to approve a $209 million budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The elected board cut out approximately $14 million in various department requests across Alamance County, including significant cuts to the Alamance County Board of Elections, the Alamance-Burlington School System, and Alamance County Parks and Recreation. County Manager Bryan Hagood indicated the county could be facing a sales tax shortfall of approximately $7 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Earlier this month, the Alamance County Board of Commissioners approved its annual 2020-21 fiscal year budget. The $209 million budget is a conservative spending plan intended to help Alamance County be flexible financially during one of the more challenging and unpredictable times in the area’s history. 

Deep cuts were made in numerous departments, most notably the Alamance County Board of Elections and the Alamance-Burlington School System, as well as the cutting of Alamance County Parks and Recreation Youth Sports, which are not expected to play their summer and fall seasons. The Commissioners will have the option of phasing money back into the budget throughout the year through a series of budget amendments. 

In a more than four hour budget session last week, the County Commissioners listened to public speakers for nearly two full hours. The majority of the public speakers expressed opposition to the deep cuts to the Board of Elections and ABSS, along with the Alamance County Parks and Recreation’s various upcoming seasonal programs. The Commissioners could vote to fund basketball season if they get the go-ahead from state officials to play the season in the coming months. 

County Manager Bryan Hagood indicated that Alamance County’s Occupancy Tax, paid by entities such as hotels, could be reduced by as much as 50 percent over the next year. The 2020-21 budget approved by the County Commissioners anticipates an approximate $7 million decline in sales tax revenues due to COVID-19. There will be no increase in the Alamance County property tax rate in the next fiscal year, as it will remain set at 67 cents per 100 dollars of assessed property value. 

The county’s bipartisan Board of Elections unanimously passed a resolution against the County Managers’ recommended 45 percent budget cuts to the Alamance County Board of Elections. The original amount requested by the Board of Elections for fiscal year 2020-21 was $1,316,937. The organization eventually reduced that figure to $1,035,109 - a reduction of $281,828 - but wound up receiving $946,007 from Alamance County for its operations. 

“(Alamance County Board of Elections Director) Mrs. (Kathy) Holland has come back with a revised budget that the Board of Elections could operate on. That (the $1.035 million) was the dollar amount Mrs. Holland suggests the department would be able to run and accommodate next year’s elections,” said County Manager Hagood. 

Approximately $210,000 of the reduction in Board of Elections funding, according to Hagood, was for additional space rental. Hagood recommended $601,580 of the Board of Elections’ funding come from the County’s General Fund, with another $304,427 coming from other county funds earmarked for BOE operations, bringing the total county commitment to $946,007. 

“The Board of Elections was interested in leasing new space for equipment - they currently lease space in several places - and they were interested in leasing new space,” Hagood explained to the Commissioners. “I know the Commissioners would agree with me that elections are extremely important. We want fair, safe, and efficient elections, as I know every Commissioner does, too.” 

ABSS Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson initially came before the County Commissioners in early March, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and asked the local leaders for approximately $49 million. Although the school system adjusted that request by more than $2 million, reducing it to $46.9 million by early spring, the Commissioners eventually voted to fund ABSS with $43.2 million - approximately $6.7 million less than the school system asked for. 

The Commissioners wound up voting 4-1 in favor of the proposed $209 million budget, with Commissioner Chair Amy Scott Galey casting the only “no” vote. She expressed disappointment in the level of ABSS funding as the primary reason for her dissent. 

“I’ve got a lot of skin in the game for the Alamance-Burlington School System,” Galey explained. “And I took a lot of heat in 2017 because they didn’t get the increase that they had requested. But they still got an 8.22 percent increase - I caught it from both sides on that one. Then, in 2018, I agreed to raise property taxes so that they could get the continuation request.”

“In 2019, I voted to fund the bonds that had passed - the bond resolution that had passed the general public. So I am going to go ahead and indicate that I will not be voting for this motion for two reasons. One, we’ve just worked so hard in this community for so long to support ABSS, and get the teacher supplements up to tenth in the state, to build those buildings and do great things for ABSS. And I’m going to take a stand on that tonight.” 

“I know we all hate this virus, and what it has done to our communities,” Commissioner Chair Galey continued. “Our children, we’ve taken them out of the school system and disrupted their little lives. The whole thing with (cutting) the (youth) sports and the Special Olympics - it just cuts to my heart, and I know it does the other Commissioners as well. My vote has nothing to do with the logic and thinking of the Board of Elections budget, or moving the money from the designated funds and making it available to them.”