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Proposed Salisbury budget would reduce taxes, add trash pickup fee

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com

City Manager David Treme presented a budget Tuesday that would decrease property taxes for Salisbury residents.
The recommendation calls for the city tax rate to drop from 59 cents to 58 cents per $100 valuation.
But Treme also wants to make garbage collection in Salisbury a separate, self-sustaining operation.
To start that process, he has recommended replacing the tax decrease by charging residents $3 a month for garbage collection.
“I think it will help us in terms of productivity and performance,” Treme said.
Treme’s garbage collection fee ó $36 a year ó will be a major discussion point in Salisbury City Council’s upcoming budget deliberations.
Council set its June 2 meeting for a public hearing on the budget. It will follow with budget work sessions at 12:30 p.m. June 4 and, if needed, 10 a.m. June 5.
The proposed city budget, including all funds, is $62.3 million.
The budget proposal also includes a water-sewer rate increase, reduced funding for street resurfacing and cuts in city funding to various community groups.
“This is the best I’ve seen it presented,” Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson said. He has received 12 annual budgets from Treme.
At its retreat in February, when financial forecasts said the city probably would be looking at a $1.5 million deficit for 2009-2010, council asked that Treme try to prepare a budget with no tax increase, no reductions in workforce and no salary cuts for full-time employees.
Council also directed Treme to maintain the current level of city services and only use the city’s fund balance judiciously to bolster current services.
Treme was asked, too, to have a strategy for implementing part of a market study on city salaries.
“I agree with the economic forecasts that 2010 and 2011 will be even tougher on local governments than the current year,” Treme said in his budget message.
The National League of Cities says there is a typical lag of 18 to 24 months between a change in economic conditions and its impact on municipal revenue collections.
Because of that and the fact that the city has never built up large reserves, Treme said he will not sacrifice the fund balance in the proposed budget.
“We may need to rely on these funds if the city is not successful in receiving federal stimulus (money) for law enforcement and public works projects,” he added.
Other than the garbage collection fee and the property tax decrease, here are some of the significant recommendations in Treme’s budget:
– No new positions, other than those justified through cost savings or funded by the city’s new “Fiber Optic Network Fund.”
– No merit salary increases for city employees. Usually, city employees have seen increases of 2 to 4 percent.
– Use $180,000 in savings from the city’s wellness plan to give pay increases to employees in the bottom third of the salary schedule.
– Seek stimulus funds of $350,000 through the Community Oriented Policing Services grant program to pay for seven police officers.
– Reduce funding for street maintenance. State Powell Bill funds are supposed to be down significantly, and Treme said costs of asphalt and concrete are going up.
– Transfer two street department employees to the Solid Waste Division to help provide collection in newly annexed areas.
– Reduce funding for capital projects, special projects and “special efforts groups.”
– Eliminate the city’s front-end garbage collection contract on or before Oct. 1.
– Charge fees for Fire Department inspections in the city’s extraterritorial area.
– Increase water-sewer rates an average of 4.57 percent.
Average monthly residential water and sewer utility bills would increase from $65.93 to $68.94, effective July 1.
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, which operates under a $22 million budget, also proposes that all commercial water and sewer connections be charged at a time-and-materials rate, rather than the current $1,300 per connection charge.
In most cases, the time-and-materials charge will be greater.
In addition, the residential connection fee will increase to $1,650 for water and $1,450 for sewer.
The city has applied for the COPS funding through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“If we are fortunate enough to receive this grant, we will be able to maintain our current number of employees, including the middle school resource officer at Knox Middle School,” Treme said.
Budget constraints will not allow any new hires in the Fire Department, though preliminary findings of the expert panel formed after the March 7, 2008, fire at Salisbury Millwork Co. have recommended a minimum of four new employees.
Treme said the ultimate goal is to increase Fire Department staffing by six firefighters, one fire inspector and a fire captain.
Because the city will be establishing a fiber-optic cable utility, the proposed budget sets up a new Fiber Optic Network Fund.
Its budget is based on the original bond issue of $36 million, of which roughly $33.5 million will go toward the fiber-to-the-home system. Of that money, $1.8 million is for working capital, $25.6 million for construction of the network and new building, $3 million for capitalized interest and $3.2 million for a debt service reserve fund.
Atlantic Engineering began construction of the system in February. The entire city has been mapped and underground construction has taken place first.
The company divided the city into 68 areas defined by LCP cabinets, with each cabinet designed to feed about 256 homes and businesses.
As of this month, four of the LCP areas have been finished, with all conduit and fiber installed. Treme said all fiber construction should be finished by the end of the year.
Treme has recommended a 7.5 percent decrease in funding for “special community efforts groups.”
The Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission would see its city allocation drop from $69,498 to $64,286; Downtown Salisbury Inc., from $98,500 to $91,113.
The Rowan Museum, Rowan Arts Council, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, Horizons Unlimited, Human Relations Council, N.C. Transportation Museum and the Gang Prevention Initiative also would see their allocations reduced.
The Rowan Blues and Jazz Society, Smart Start Rowan, Students in Training and Communities in School, all of which made funding requests, would not receive any money under the proposed budget.
Treme said he heard suggestions that city employees take furlough days as a cost-saving measure.
But furlough days don’t necessarily work well when employees are trying to provide fire and police protection or garbage collection, he said as examples.
“Certainly, we’re thankful to be here, thankful to have our jobs,” Treme said.

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