Category Archives: Tax Rate

Lean and Nimble

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County is extremely fortunate to have Earl Mathers as our county manager.  Our commissioners have just finished the budget for the upcoming year.  Earl shares lots of information about the financial issues we face in our new fiscal year.  Financially, we are doing pretty good! Now  that you know, what will you do?

 Gaston County Approves the FY 2017 Budget

During the last two years Gaston County has adopted leading edge budget practices in an effort to ensure that community and county commission priorities are as closely aligned with expenditures as possible. In fact, the implementation of the leading edge Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) methods have further streamlined an already award winning budgetary process in Gaston County.  We also take pride in the fact that the foremost authority on governmental budgeting, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), has recognized Gaston County for excellence in its budget process for the last several years.  In addition, strong financial management practices was a major factor in a recent bond rating upgrade by Standard and Poor’s for Gaston County which enables the county to obtain more favorable interest rates in the financing of school debt. This bond rating upgrade will save the county tens of thousands of dollars.

Gaston County’s general fund budget for FY 17 is approximately $202 million. Although this may seem like a great deal of money to most people, most of what Gaston County does is mandated.   In other words, Gaston County has limited discretion in the activities it performs.  Despite the mandates, the county does have the ability and the responsibility to ensure that all activities are performed in an efficient manner.  PBB enables Gaston County’s managers to be more intentional and results oriented in their deployment of scarce resources, regardless of whether a particular program is mandated or discretionary.

Producing Gaston County’s annual budget is an arduous process involving months of intensive work. Typically, budget requests exceed available funds by a substantial margin and this year a total of over $25 million was trimmed from departmental and external requests in order to produce a budget that is balanced.  The FY 17 budget would be flat except for the fact that $3 million in additional debt service for two new schools and $1.5 million in teacher supplements are included.  These are expenditures that have considerable merit. Overall, Gaston County departmental budgets are flat for FY 17.  There are several significant expense items on the horizon, however.  These include the need to make a variety of infrastructure improvements which have been deferred for several years and upgrade the public safety radio communication system.  Leading expense categories for FY 17 in Gaston County are illustrated below:

Mathers pie chart

Fortunately, Gaston County anticipates revenue growth in coming years. Both property and sales tax revenues are expected to continue to grow and this will ease the financial strain that Gaston County has felt since the beginning of the recession.  In addition, the increase in debt service over the next two fiscal years will decline as older debt is retired.  Continued fiscal restraint on the part of county departments will also be necessary and desirable but, in general, Gaston County’s financial outlook is favorable.  Anticipated revenue growth for FY 17 is shown below.

Mathers graphLooking to the Future

There is a widespread belief that Gaston County is poised to achieve the kind of progress that will lead to greater economic parity with several of our regional neighbors. Some lament the fact that Gaston has fallen behind more affluent parts of the metro area and yet there are specific reasons that growth has been more gradual here.  Actually, considering the persistent generational poverty and other challenges confronting Gaston County, our performance has been quite strong in recent years.  Unemployment has fallen to around the state average and many of the jobs lost during the decline of the textile industry have been replaced.  Indeed, we now need to develop more industrial property which fits the needs of prospective industries and the FY 17 budget sets aside money for that purpose.

There is most assuredly room for continued advancement and if genuine collaboration in the public interest occurs there is reason for considerable optimism. Gaston County recognizes these needs and has made a variety of investments that we hope will yield excellent returns.  Colin Powell once said “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  In order to achieve the success we all desire for Gaston County, we must allow our collective optimism to brush aside minor differences in a manner that promotes the common good.  Although every individual and all the organizational entities in Gaston County have a natural tendency to protect their own interests, lets’ focus on mutual efforts that will yield universal benefits as we design an even brighter future.

Earl Mathers
Manager, Gaston County

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If You Aren’t Growing, You Are Dying

SEABROOK SAYS:  GGDC writes about two prime goals: growing jobs and growing the tax base. Every citizen can help everyday: talk up our positives, build our image, make our Gaston a better place.

The Alliance for Growth plan developed by over 100 Gaston County leaders late in 2014 embodies two fundamentally important goals for Gaston County: 1) grow jobs and 2) grow the tax base through greater investment. These goals are premised on the conviction that growth is a positive thing and that a failure to grow inevitably leads at best to mediocrity and at worst to a spiral downward. This condition is exemplified by a quote attributed to numerous authors: “if you aren’t growing, you are dying.” To examine the simple power of this statement, it is helpful to delve deeper into the Alliance for Growth plan and what it can mean to Gaston County’s future growth.

First, we need to acknowledge that growth does create challenges (more demand on public services such as schools, police, fire as well as environmental pressures) and because of that some would argue that growth is neither good nor desirable. We believe this is a very limited view of the potential of a community and its ability to grow in a positive and productive manner. It is also premised on the dubious assumption that somehow it is easier or better to manage a contracting budget, under-utilized school rooms and public safety layoffs, than expansions in those areas. It is said that people “vote with their feet,” and the exodus in America from the declining Rust Belt and Northeast to vibrant and growing New South cities like Charlotte and Austin indicates what most of us believe is better.

If you look at how Gaston County fits into the rapidly-growing Charlotte region, a couple of statistics depict the larger challenges we face. Of all of our peer counties immediately surrounding Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gaston County has for some time had the slowest rate of population growth. Gaston County also has the highest personal property tax RATE of all those counties (except Lancaster, SC), even higher than Mecklenburg County. Gaston’s lower population growth reflects, among other things, slower job growth here and the misperception that Gaston County is not as desirable a place to live as are some other counties in the region. Lower property values and lower levels of capital investment drive higher tax RATES to generate levels of revenue adequate to provide public services.

The Alliance for Growth plan attacks these challenges head on while also building on Gaston County’s many strengths. As you might expect, many of these challenges and strengths are interrelated. You increase the tax base by increasing both capital investment in and the value of property in Gaston County. Stimulating demand for land through increasing development and higher, more productive use of land will increase the value of land and thus the tax base. This can be accomplished by expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses, including new residential, commercial, industrial, retail and office users. By stimulating job growth, you provide new and better jobs for residents, and you attract newcomers to Gaston County. These more prosperous residents and newcomers, who work in new or expanded businesses, will drive demand for new retail, homes and professional services.  This is sometimes called a “virtuous circle,” and it certainly applies in Gaston County.

The Alliance for Growth plan envisions a new set of bridges across the Catawba and South Fork Rivers, opening up much better access to and from Charlotte’s I485 outer belt and the region’s job engine at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and its intermodal yard. The plan has strategies to improve workforce preparedness and career and technical education opportunities, to better match job skills and job opportunities. Likewise, the Alliance for Growth plan includes action steps to reduce the regulatory drag on new businesses and development, and to stimulate entrepreneurs and small businesses. There are also specific action plans for expanding business recruitment, providing more ready-to-develop sites and ready-to-occupy buildings. To capitalize on these many positive actions, we must also improve how a number of key audiences (from newcomers to developers to opinion makers) view Gaston County and our cities and towns. We are pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress on a number of these items, particularly on financing and implementing the plan’s recommendation to develop an Image and Branding campaign for Gaston County.

Growth will surely follow from this new-found focus, commitment and investment in Gaston County by her citizens. After all, the Alliance for Growth plan was developed by Gaston County leaders who have a deep love for this County. They desire to see all of their fellow citizens have the opportunity to experience the American Dream, be that a good, well-paying job, a nice home in a welcoming neighborhood, an inspiring education for their children, abundant recreational opportunities, or any one of a number of other things that make a community great. Working together we can achieve these things and grow to become the leader among counties in the Charlotte region.

Bob Clay, Chair, Greater Gaston Development Corporation                                                                                     Mark Cramer, Executive Director, Greater Gaston Development Corporation