Iredell Commissioners Take Deeper Dive Into Proposed Budget; Department Heads Detail Challenges
From Karissa Miller, Iredell Free News, May 5, 2023
Iredell County commissioners took a deeper dive into the proposed $323.6 million budget for fiscal year 2023-2024 during a two-day work session on Thursday and Friday.
During the workshops at the Iredell County Extension Office, department heads presented their budgets to county commissioners and discussed the latest in their department, new legislation and other topics.
On Thursday afternoon, after a power outage, the board continued to push through their agenda by flashlight and cell phone light.
Calling the sessions “productive,” Chair Melissa Neader said she was pleased with how much ground the board covered.
The budget represents a 25 percent increase in spending from the current budget of $258.7 million. County Manger Beth Mull recommended that commissioners reduce the property tax rate from 53.75 cents per $100 valuation to 50 cents per $100 valuation. However, property values across the county have increased significantly during the past four years so most property owners will still see an increase in their tax bill.
The proposed budget calls for a 5 percent pay scale adjustment for all positions, which would cost about $1.5 million to implement. Mull is also recommending a 4 percent merit increase that will be paid to all existing staff beginning July 1. The estimated cost is $1 million.
New Positions Proposed
Mull recommended adding 30 new full-time positions and two part-time positions during the upcoming fiscal year. The estimated cost of salary and benefits of these new positions is $1.5 million.
Among the new positions are:
• Fourteen new positions in the Department of Social Services, including an attorney and two specialists in the child welfare division and 11 income maintenance positions to create another team as a result of the Medicaid expansion. The 11 income maintenance positions will be funded for six months, so they will be added in January.
• Eight EMS paramedics, which will be funded for six months and only filled once the other vacancies are filled.
• Two positions in the county’s IT Department; one application developer and another system analyst with a GIS focus.
• One part-time election specialist in the Elections Department.
New High School Project
The new high school project was originally passed and funded through the 2020 bond at an estimated cost of $80 million. In April, Iredell-Statesville Schools requested up to $200 million for the project.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, commissioners agreed to allocate $120 million for the new high school. I-SS officials have also said the district will need a new elementary or middle school.
Mull recommended that the county borrow $40 million for the new high school project.
The county will use the additional property tax revenues to pay the debt service on the $40 million loan. The county will also set aside funds for the new elementary or middle school.
This approach, Mull said, will prevent the commissioners from having to place a referendum on the 2024 ballot.
Budget at a Glance
Top Five General Fund Proposed Budget Expenditures by Service Type:
• Education — 40 percent
• Public Safety — 20.5 percent
• Capital Improvement fund—13.8 percent
• Human Services— 12.3 percent
• General Government—7.3 percent
Critical staffing shortages
Commissioners learned that Iredell County Department of Social Services is facing critical staffing shortages, with nearly 50 open positions.
Officials are trying to remedy the situation by looking at a possibility of a hybrid program that will offer a remote work option for some eligible employees.
The two areas that have been greatly impacted by the vacancies are workers in Child Protective Services and Medicaid expansion.
While there are shortages, the DSS staff continue to fill the gaps without impacting services.
Neader called it a “sign of the times” and said that the board wants to move in a direction that the director thinks will help fill vacancies. The board agreed by consensus to allow the Director Yvette Smith to put together a pilot program option together.
DSS is trying to be creative to fill these vacancies, and the pilot program will address employees’ desire to work from home.
Staffing issues aren’t limited just to DSS. As a result of COVID-19, the county’s staffing has decreased for various reasons yet the demand for services continues to increase.
The county had 141 open positions as of March.
“We are not immune to the hiring difficulties that employers around the county are experiencing,” Mull said.
Commissioners also have discussed the need to ensure the county has a succession plan for when long-time employees retire as well.