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Commissioners restore budget cuts, invest in community with added tax revenue  

Forsyth County commissioners used better-than-expected sales tax revenue to restore budget cuts made in this year’s FY21 budget and invest money in services and non-profits during their final meeting of the year on Thursday, Dec. 17.

With the uncertainty around the impact of COVID-19 on sales tax revenue back in June, the commissioners passed the FY21 budget with plans to revisit it later in the year. The impact on sales tax revenue from the pandemic turned out to be far less than expected, resulting in $7.8 million allocated to the budget on Thursday.The commissioners approved $5 million for budget restorations across various departments, which included restoring reductions in longevity and performance pay for county employees, as well as $2.9 million in funding to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System.

In addition to the $5 million restored to departmental budgets, the board allocated an additional $2.4million for additional spending. This included adding 10 Social Services positions, a full-time sustainability manager, and two school nurse positions. There were also funds for a gang prevention program, a citizen survey, a lobbyist, and upfitting a space at Social Services for a WIC clinic. Many non-profits also received additional special appropriations including Second Harvest Food Bank, Crosby Scholars, SHARE Cooperative, Piedmont Land Conservancy, Korner’s Folly, Old Salem, Experiment in Self Reliance, Habitat for Humanity and the National Black Theater Festival.

The $447 million FY21 budget that the commissioners passed in June reflected a reduction in spending of 2.5 percent, or $11 million. This was because staff estimated a loss of 15%, or $10 million, in sales tax revenue.The actual year-end FY20 sales tax revenue was $67.9 million, which was only a 1.1% reduction from the pre-COVID-19 estimate. Data for this current fiscal year is also promising, showing an increase in first quarter tax revenue over last year.

Commissioners also voted to allocate $18 million in pay-go funds, spending $6.2million on existing projects currently in progress such as replacing the county’s payroll system, upgrading the radio system used by first responders, and renovations at Tanglewood Clubhouse. Other management recommendations include spending $7.27 million on the urgent projects of COVID-19 response, Emergency Medical Services defibrillator replacement, EMS vehicles, phase one of Belews Lake Park development, capital projects related to merged or co-located operations with theWS/FCS, up-fitting the Public Safety Center so that both city and county 911 services can co-locate there, and ventilation improvements at school facilities. There’s also $4.67 million recommended for an economic development reserve, Public Health facility renovations and debt reduction.

County commissioner meetings can be viewed on the Forsyth County Government Facebook page and at https://forsyth.cc/Commissioners/meeting_agendas.aspx.