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RALEIGH — The uncertainty of the effects of COVID-19 was a common theme among budget presentations across the last month, but none more so than Wake County’s proposal.
Revenues, including sales tax, are down because people are staying home, and no one knows what is going to happen next. Managers and finance directors have had to trim where they could with Wake County predicting a $29 million gap.
Wake County Manager David Ellis presented a $1.46 billion recommended budget to the board of commissioners Monday during its virtual meeting.
It drops property tax to the revenue-neutral rate of 60-cents per $100 valuation and represents a 1% decrease from the 2019-20 budget, a difference of $17 million. It also recommends eliminating more 107 positions. Most of those positions are currently vacant, but not all.
“COVID-19 has drastically changed our revenue picture,” Ellis said. “To bridge that gap, I recommend eliminating more than 100 positions across the county, delaying capital investments and cutting back on contractual services and professional development for our employees.”
The pandemic is still evolving, as is its impact on the county, he added. Property tax accounts for 77% of the county’s total revenue. It is lower than expected due to slower growth than anticipated, Ellis said.
Also, property tax is collected at a lower rate during financial downturns, he said. Development-related revenues are projected to decline by $4.5 million due to real estate transactions being down 12%. Sales tax is also down by $41.8 million in Wake County.
Wake County Sheriff’s Office would receive the most cuts with 46 positions being eliminated. All filled sworn deputies, detention officers and detention medical staff would keep their jobs, Ellis said.
The proposed budget also removes two 12-hour ambulances with eight associated positions. It also scales back the EMT-to-paramedic training program by four positions. Ellis added that EMS calls are up 26% since 2014, and that the county is projecting an estimated 20% increase by 2025.
Wake County’s 22 libraries would lose 13 librarians and 19 library assistants. Libraries would also open an hour later and close an hour earlier. This would affect programs for both children and adults, Ellis said. It would also eliminate the Wake County Public Library Book Sale.
Human services would have to tighten funding and reduce flexibility. Temporary staffing would be pulled back and five positions would be reduced in “areas of lower demand,” Ellis said. Some outside agencies would also no longer contract with the department.
Wake County Animal Center would reduce part-time and temporary-staffing, which may require altering its public hours.
County employees would not see a pay increase in 2021. This is a short-term strategy that could negatively impact the county’s ability to recruit and retain top talent, Ellis said.
Despite these cuts, the proposed budget continues to fund Child Welfare, Public Health and Food and Nutrition Services. The latter department has seen a 48% increase in applications between March and April because of COVID-19, Ellis said.
Wake Prevent, the county’s homelessness prevention program, would receive additional social workers. The South Wilmington Street Shelter would also see more staff. This is to improve emergency sheltering and provide more one-on-one assistance, Ellis said.
Education would receive the same funding as last year. Wake County Public School System would receive $515.96 million. Some of that money passes through WCPSS to go to local charter schools. Wake Tech would receive $25 million while Smart Start received approximately $1.7 million.
The county is also planning to implement a Next Generation 911 platform to improve the public’s ability to reach emergency services, and to move the Detention Medical Unit to a new electronic health records system to improve coordination of medical care for inmates.
Wake County is taking public comments online at http://wakegov.com/budget Thursday through June 2. The budget public hearing will be held June 1 at 5 p.m and the board is expected to vote June 15.