By Richard Sullins |

Lee County Commissioners adopted a $90 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year Monday, a spending plan that cuts property taxes by 3 cents and expands funding for Central Carolina Community College, but leaves local public school teachers without a supplemental pay increase for another year.

The plan on the agenda was for a public hearing and comments from interested citizens, but when no one appeared to speak either for or against the proposal, the commissioners voted to suspend their own rules and vote on the budget during the same night.

The spending plan cuts the tax rate by 3 cents, from the current 76 cents per $100 valuation in property to 73. The initial budget plan released last week had called for a 72.5 cents rate, but an amendment offered by Republican Commissioner Dr. Andre Knecht changed it to 73 cents and moved that additional revenue to meet needs in the Sheriff’s Office.

County Commission Chairman Kirk Smith, a Republican, said “we were focused since January to provide the taxpayers of Lee County relief in these trying economic times of high inflation and rising energy costs.”

The additional half-cent for the Sheriff’s Office created another $331,176 in revenue and that will be combined with $116,964 from the county’s fund balance. The purpose of these changes is to add two additional road deputies to the sheriff’s staff and to address staffing issues in the county jail.

Interim Sheriff Brian Estes will work with County Manager Dr. John Crumpton and Finance Officer Lisa Minter to allocate $150,710 for salaries, fringe benefits, and equipment; $116,964 to purchase new vehicles; and $180,466 in salaries, fringe benefits, and equipment to the jail.

The last-minute boost brought home an increase for the Sheriff’s Office of just under $1.35 million. But even that amount is still far short of Estes’ initial request of $7 million in new funding.

Central Carolina Community College has much to celebrate in the new budget year, with a total increase in its budget of $1,243,205. The coming year’s budget includes a special appropriation of $920,000 to get the Moore Center up and running for training needed by car manufacturer VinFast next summer, as well as another $323,205 in current expense funds to pay for increased salary costs for locally paid employees.

Not every department that depends on the county for a portion of its funding got good news from the meeting.

For the second year in a row, the four Republican commissioners refused to budge on the issue of granting increases on local supplements to teachers and classified staff in the county’s schools. The Lee County Board of Education had asked for $1.6 million to grant a 2 percent raise in the supplements and keep local schools competitive in attracting and retaining new teachers.

There was no discussion of the issue at Monday night’s meeting because positions had been made clear when the commissioners met with school board leadership and District Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan on May 23.

The total amount of the coming fiscal year’s budget is $90,838,408, or $6 million more than the current year. It projects to raise just over half of that amount through ad valorem, or property, taxes ($48 million) and $23 million in revenues from the local option sales tax.

The budget document notes that the total value of all real property, business personal property, and utilities for the purposes of taxation within Lee County during FY 2022-23 will be just over $6 billion, plus an estimated total valuation of vehicles for the purposes of taxation is another $620 million.

The discussion of the budget was brief, since the board had previously had opportunities to question, discuss, and debate the issues during a number of working sessions held throughout the spring. When the final vote was taken, the result was a unanimous one in favor of adoption.