County government in North Carolina is charged with many essential functions during a pandemic including emergency services and public health. These services are intended to support communities during a time of crisis that include both the active phases of the pandemic and the economic recovery to follow as a result. County government functions are important and essential all the time, but are emphasized during the historic impact of COVID-19 on our communities across the country.
Transylvania County leadership always follows a careful budget process that balances mandated services, service needs and citizen expectations against the ability to generate revenue. With a data driven approach to understanding both the need and our effectiveness, we work to achieve maximum efficiency while maintaining quality in good stewardship of public funds. This budget was prepared with the same eye to balance and performance as you would expect, but does present unique challenges that we have never before considered possible. Usually an economic downturn is predicated with a cooling of economic indicators and provides time to modify economic strategies. COVID-19 has resulted in a sudden and dramatic change to our economy and our daily lives that did not afford time to carefully react. Instead, we have been navigating a time period where policy is created in real time, answers to the behavior of the virus are fluid and we must be prepared to adapt in short order.
The experience of a modern pandemic is changing how we operate and the demands for our services. It has the potential to change what infrastructure we need to operate including our office spaces. Our fiscal and legal responsibilities as service providers and employers face uncertainty that could not have been predicted prior to COVID-19. The impacts to revenue required to fund necessary functions remains uncertain as well as we enter into this budget cycle. With these unknowns, it will remain critical that we position ourselves to be nimble in our management of county government as we cross into a new budget year.
Even beyond the coming budget year, we will likely see changes of expectations and requirements for how we operate that will remain permanent after the experience of a global pandemic. These changes will take time to reveal and to gauge the impact on local governance. While this level of uncertainty about the immediate and long range future can seem intimidating, I have found in navigating the first 3 months of COVID-19 that our county is blessed with leaders- on staff and elected- that are committed to Transylvania County's success through this virus and beyond it. This demonstrated commitment has left me with the solid belief that we have the resilience as a community to navigate whatever changes may come as a result of COVID-19.
County Department and Office Leaders submitted budget requests during a booming economy. Two months later, budget review occurred after the realization that COVID-19 would have a lasting impact on our economic outlook and that our world was changing. Across the board, department and office leaders worked collaboratively with administration on what to forestall or eliminate entirely to craft this budget so that service to our citizens remains resilient while minimizing the fiscal impact with no expectation of increased funding levels. Partner agencies reliant on county funding such as the Rescue Squad were held harmless from reduction while Blue Ridge Community College and Transylvania
County Schools include small increases due to increased SRO personnel costs in the recommended budget from last year's appropriation. Overall, this budget reflects a spending decrease of 9% from the revised FY 20 budget and a 6.7% decrease from the original FY 20 budget. Further cuts would require net reduction in services and could endanger the capacity to provide essential services. Likewise, any increases from the recommended budget would require a revenue source that is limited to property tax increase under state law or to modify designated funding policy to accommodate the increase.
Finally, I want to thank staff who worked diligently to prepare this budget with great thought and care with me during this challenging time. All county department and office leaders should be commended for their work to minimize expenses and still provide exemplary service to our county's citizens. It is my pleasure to be serving Transylvania County with such a dedicated and talented team. Together we will remain nimble and responsive to the citizens of Transylvania County and together we will make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jaime Laughter, AICP, ICMA-CM