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:
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.
Looking 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.
Manager, Gaston County