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BUDGET SHORTFALL EXPECTED TAX INCREASE LOOMS OVER ROCKINGHAM
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BUDGET SHORTFALL EXPECTED TAX INCREASE LOOMS OVER ROCKINGHAM

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Despite severe preliminary cuts in the Rockingham County 1990-91 operating budget, county manager Hugh P. Griffin Monday predicted a possible shortfall of more than $700,000, a deficit that could require a 3-cent property tax increase.

``We have made some really drastic cuts,' Griffin said. ``We're still out of balance by $700,000 to $800,000.'Both Griffin and county finance director Glenn Powell, however, were quick to emphasize that they would not recommend a tax increase to county commissioners.

Commissioners chairman Robert Hunt said the board would not pass a tax increase to balance the budget unless further cuts are absolutely impossible.

``If it's essential, we have no choice,' Hunt said. ``None of us wants one, that's for sure.

``It's going to be a real tough budget year.'

Griffin said that before the budget cuts, department requests were in excess of $5 million more than the $40 million county budget.

``We've cut $4.5 million and we're still out of balance,' he said. ``I don't reckon there's a department that hasn't been cut.'

Cuts so far have included new equipment, personnel and capital expenditures, he said.

County finance director Powell said it would take a 3-cent tax increase to make up the $700,000 shortfall. The tax rate for Rockingham County residents now is 62 cents per $100, he said. If the 3-cent increase were levied, property owners would pay 65 cents per $100, he said.

Put another way, the owner of a home valued at $50,000 could expect to pay an additional $15 in taxes. ``I personally think our taxes are high enough,' he said.

Griffin emphasized that the budget, to be presented to county commissioners Monday, has not been finalized and more cuts are expected.

Making matters more difficult is that the amount of money the county must provide the Department of Social Services has increased.

While the state and federal governments provide most of the money for Medicaid and Aid for Families with Dependent Children, the county is required by law to pay a percentage.

Powell said the amount the county is mandated to pay DSS for public assistance programs this year is about $700,000, the same amount of the deficit.

Griffin also blames this year's shortfall on a tax base increase of only 1.5 percent, not even enough to cover a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for county departments.

``We've got a 1.5 percent increase and (departments) are wanting increases from 7 to 20-some percent,' he said. ``You get further apart quickly.'

Commissioners chairman Hunt said he does not know how a shortfall of $700,000 to $800,000 could be made up without eliminating some services entirely.

``I don't see how you can cut that many dollars for services, really,' he said.

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