Forsyth County commissioners passed a balanced continuation budget that maintains current service levels and lowers the property tax rate with a commitment to review additional funding requests in November, once the county has a clearer understanding of the overall impact on revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Normally requests for additional funding, known as Alternate Service Levels, are reviewed more thoroughly during the budget adoption process, but the economic downturn due to COVID-19 has made it hard to predict just how much sales tax revenue the county will receive. The $447 million 2020-2021 budget reflects a reduction in spending of 2.5 percent, or $11 million. This reflects the estimated loss of 15 percent, or $10 million, in sales tax revenue. Commissioners will review the actual revenue in November to see what, if any, Alternative Service Level requests they can fund.
The budget reduces the property tax rate one cent due to the successful ¼ cent sales tax referendum to fund local teacher supplements approved by voters, which will go into effect on July 1. It’s estimated to bring in $11 million. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will receive its first allocation for the supplement increases in August with regular monthly allocations after that.
Education remains the county’s largest service area in terms of expenditure, with 34 percent, or $150.5 million, of the general fund budget going to education. WS/FC Schools receive 92 percent of those education funds while Forsyth Technical Community College and the local NC Cooperative Extension center receive the rest.
Education bond projects, like building and renovating schools, take up most of the 15 percent of the general fund budget devoted to debt service. Approximately $46.9 million of the $66.6 million Transfer to Debt Service Fund is directly related to debt associated with school construction bonds that have been issued over the years. Counting both general fund expenditures and debt service, approximately 40 percent of all new county tax revenue is devoted to WS/FC Schools.
Public Safety is 18 percent or $82.2 million, of the general fund budget. Approximately $60.3 million, or 73 percent, of Public Safety funds goes to the Sheriff’s Office, which includes the Law Enforcement Detention Center, Animal Services and School Resource Officers. Emergency Services, which includes county Fire, EMS and 911 services, is 24 percent, or $20 million, of those funds, with Court Services, Emergency Management and Interagency Communications accounting for the rest.
The Social Services service area accounts for 10 percent, or $46.9 million, of the general fund budget with 96 percent of those funds going to the Social Services Department and the rest going to Aging Services and Youth Services.
The Health service area receives 6 percent, or $28.8 million, of the general fund budget with 90 percent of those funds going to the Public Health Department, 9 percent going to Behavioral Health and 1 percent going to Medical Examiner fees.
More than $1 million is devoted to special appropriations to local nonprofits, which includes support for Kaleideum, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, National Black Theatre Festival, HARRY Veterans Services, Experiment in Self-Reliance and Children’s Law Center, along with the county’s contribution to TransAid transportation for residents with disabilities.
The budget also included a half cent tax rate increase for the Rural Hall Fire Tax District.
All the commissioners had high praise for the budget staff and county departments for their hard work and sacrifice in preparing a challenging budget in a very difficult time.
The preliminary budget is still available to view online on the Budget Department website, http://www.forsyth.cc/Budget/. The final, approved budget, which goes into effect on July 1, will be available online by the end of the month.