NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners held a workshop on Feb. 5 to work out details as the board enters the annual budgeting process.
The workshop was held at the new Cooperative Extension Facility rather than the commissioners’ boardroom in the county government complex.
The workshop focused on planning the budgeting process as well as discussing a number of small points on budgeting the commissioners have encountered in the past.
County Manager Philip Barrier revealed at the workshop that due to a number of new homes being constructed, the county’s property valuation has increased from $3.607 billion to approximately $3.684 billion when accounting for real property alone. Barrier said at the current tax rate of 48 cents, that growth equates to $354,816 in tax dollars, conservatively. Lowering or increasing the tax rate at that valuation would be about $353,000. These figures assume the same average tax collection rate.
Barrier said those figures are early and conservative. Other factors like inflation and increased costs associated with personnel have the potential to cut into the county’s additional revenue.
Barrier added that the county lost a billion dollars in valuation in 2014, from which the county is still recovering.
The county’s budget season last year was a protracted process encompassing about 30 hours of budget workshops, something Barrier anticipates will be be less intensive this year.
The first budgeting issue brought up at the workshop was pay for local sheriff’s deputies. Barrier said he had been in touch with David Hill of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, who is performing a study on all nearby counties.
Barriers said towns and cities pay officers more than sheriff offices, but the county has higher starting pay than Burke, McDowell and Mitchell counties for deputies. Commissioner Blake Vance noted that those three counties also have higher property tax rates than Avery.
Also pointed out was that there are some differences in the nature of work being done by deputies and municipal police, but in Avery County the sheriff’s office provides a large amount of assistance to local municipalities.
Commissioner Tim Phillips suggested looking into merit-based raises for additional training and certifications deputies obtain.
Another item raised at the workshop was the possibility of moving the probation office. Exactly how the county would accomplish that was not determined, though Barrier had a handful of suggestions, such as acquiring a new facility with office space or reappropriating some space in a current county building.