Commissioners talk taxes, turnover and debt

Commissioners talk taxes, turnover and debt
March 01
02:00 2018

The consequences of tax reform, a county sales tax, employee turnover and enhancing Safe on Seven were some of the topics discussed during a Winter Work Session held by Forsyth County commissioners last week.

The effects of tax reform

“Tax reform is not our friend.”

That’s how Forsyth County Chief Financial Officer Paul Fulton began his presentation on the effects of tax reform on the county’s debt.  Tax reform, passed by Congress last year, lowers the corporate tax rate and eliminated the corporate  Alternative Minimum Tax, both of which lowers the demand by corporations for tax-exempt municipal bonds, like what the county uses for bond referendums and capital projects like the new court house. In addition, the Federal Reserve has announced that there will be numerous rate hikes in the next two years. This will make the borrowing rates go up, so the county will pay more for its future borrowing.

A county sales tax?

Budget Director Kyle Wolf told commissioners about Article 46, a state statute that gives counties the ability to charge a one-fourth of a cent sales tax. This would have to be approved in a voter referendum on an even numbered year and would not apply to groceries or gas. The county could apply the money to whatever it chooses.

Staff estimated the tax would bring in $12.7 million with 33 percent or $3.3 million being generated by non-Forsyth County residents.

County Commissioner Don Martin liked the idea, saying that new in-county generated revenue could be used to lower the property tax rate by 2.3 cent, which is the same amount that taxes are scheduled go up in the next budget to pay for court facilities debt leveling. However, commissioners Everette Witherspoon and Fleming El-Amin called it a regressive tax that would give property owners a break while everyone paid more, including many lower income people who don’t own houses. They didn’t believe residents would vote for such a tax.

Martin said some of the $3.3 million could be used for teacher pay incentives. He believed voters would approve it because polls show voters are willing to support taxes that raise teacher pay.

Commissioner Chair Dave Plyler was the only commissioner who also said he thought it was a good idea, so the commissioners decided to table the discussion and move on.

Why are county workers leaving?

Human Resources Director Shontell Robinson told commissioners that the turnover rate in the county remains higher than its peers.

The county had a 18.45 percent turnover rate last fiscal year compared with the City of Winston-Salem’s 11.08 percent. Guilford and Mecklenburg have about 10 percent and Wake has 11.92 percent.

The highest turnover for the county is in Emergency Services, where it’s 24 percent with most of it coming from Emergency Medical Services.

“The majority of them is from the EMS division and they are losing a lot of employees, not really for pay,” said Robinson. “A lot of them will actually leave for lower pay, but a lower workload, in some of the other counties.”

The Sheriff’s Office had the second highest turnover at 19.12 percent. Robinson said that changes in pay and work conditions at the Detention Center has caused a 12 precent increase in work satisfaction and 10 percent increase in those planning to stay there. She also said that the Sheriff’s Office is working to fill vacancies in both patrol and detention divisions, with 32 positions left to fill. This is down from 78 vacancies in February 2017.

The average pay of county workers is $44,558.59 and includes health, basic life and dental insurance as well as a 401k contribution. Robinson said 17.24 percent of employees are paid above their market range.

She said they’ll be doing an employee survey to try to determine why the turnover rate is that high.

Safe on Seven enhancement

A study by county staff of court services suggested changes to Safe on Seven, a one-stop service center for domestic violence victims, that was formerly housed on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice and is now in the Behavioral Health Plaza on Highland Avenue.

Staff looked at the national Family Justice Center model being used in Greensboro. It provides multiple services for domestic violence victims, but also features adult and child protective services with full time staff. Family Services, which is one of the partners in Safe on Seven, is studying the model to see if it should be adopted locally.

County staff recommended using a combination of state and county dollars to fund positions for Safe on Seven, including navigators to help victims navigate services, and turning the coordinator into a program manager position under the county.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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