County leaders approve budget, long-range spending plan

At Monday night's Alamance County Commissioners meeting, County Manager Bryan Hagood (right) explains some of the numbers in this year's county budget to members of the elected board (left). The Commissioners ultimately voted to approve an approximately $172 million budget for fiscal year 2019-20, including an 8-cent tax increase. Most of that tax increase will go to pay for school bonds for the renovations of Alamance Community College and Alamance-Burlington School System facilities, along with the construction in the coming years of a new high school somewhere in Mebane south of the I-40/I-85 interchange.

At Monday night’s Alamance County Commissioners meeting, the elected board voted to approve not only its 2019-20 fiscal year budget, but also a long-range plan to address the next seven years’ worth of growth in the county.

Alamance County’s $172 million 2019-20 fiscal year budget allocates $45.9 million to the Alamance-Burlington School system, and nearly $97 million for county operations. An additional $26 million has been set aside by county leaders for capital reserves to pay for projects as they arise - a concept termed “pay as you go.”

This year’s Alamance County budget includes an 8-cent tax increase, pushing Alamance County’s effective property tax rate from 59 cents to 67 cents per $100 of assessed home value. This marks the largest tax increase in Alamance County in years, and is the result of the passage last fall of the approximately $190 million bond referendum for Alamance Community College and the Alamance-Burlington School System.

County Manager Brian Hagood recommended to the Commissioners at a meeting earlier this month a one-time property tax increase to cover the entire project timeline of the ABSS and ACC renovations, along with the proposed construction of a new high school in southeastern Alamance County, somewhere in the Hawfields area of Mebane. The bond construction payments will run through 2023.

The tax increase is expected to generate approximately $15 million this fiscal year in revenues for Alamance County, which will assist in paying down the school bonds. Additional bonds will be issued in future budgets. The county’s dramatic tax base growth - much of which is derived in Mebane and eastern Alamance County - is adding nearly $85 million in revenues in the coming years to pay for the school bonds.

“The money that is created by the property tax increase, we start putting it in capital reserves and start making those payments as they come due,” County Manager Hagood explained to the Commissioners. “They won’t all be due in fiscal year 19-20. There will only be a small portion due in 19-20. We’ll be bankrolling this revenue as it comes in, either using it to pay upfront costs to the school system or the community college (ACC), or to start pay bond debt when it comes due. The idea being that this tax increase is all that would be needed for the duration of all the projects (related to the school bonds).”

While the overwhelming majority of the tax increase - 7.04 cents - is specifically earmarked towards the ACC/ABSS school bond debt, Alamance County leaders also earmarked approximately 0.96 cents of the tax increase to a new program that will purchase Alamance County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars and other county equipment and vehicles. The new program will be allocated approximately $1.4 million annually through this new tax increase to cover these various countywide expenses.

At Monday night’s Commissioners meeting, the board voted to amend County Manager Hagood’s Recommended Budget to include one additional part-time position, five full-time positions, and increased Farmland Preservation funds. Over the past couple years, Alamance County’s Farmland Preservation Program has been accepting applications from groups that seek to forward its mission, which is to “promote agriculture values and the general welfare of the county by increasing identity and pride in the agriculture community and its way of life, encourage the economic and financial health of agriculture/forestry, and increase protection from non-farm development and other negative impacts on properly managed farms.”