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By Scott Jenkins
Salisbury Post
EAST SPENCER ó Town residents won’t see the property tax rate increase in the coming fiscal year, but they’ll probably see their water and sewer bills go up more than initially proposed.
The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the $2.2 million 2007-2008 budget Monday night. But the board rejected a proposed 3-cent increase in the town’s property tax rate.
The approved budget also includes a $38,510 allocation for new firefighter turnout gear, an addition to the final spending plan to appease a grantor that had demanded the town buy the gear or return its money.
Town Administrator Richard Hunter had proposed increasing the town’s property tax rate to 66 cents per $100 of assessed property value. But Hunter said Monday board members made it clear how they felt about that.
“I got the message from you loud and clear that you did not want to include a tax-rate increase at any cost,” Hunter said to the board at a called meeting to adopt the budget before the June 30 deadline.
The board responded with a chorus of “Yes sir.”
“Yes sir, loud and clear,” Alderman John Rustin said. In informal comments to other board members before the meeting, Rustin said, “We don’t need no tax increase.”
Hunter said the 3-cent increase would have generated $26,136. Hunter had said the town needed the hike to maintain current service levels, but said recently he would instead not put as much into the town’s fund balance, or savings, as he had hoped after it was depleted this year to make up for less-than-expected revenues.
Hunter said Monday he has also trimmed the spending plan in several places, including reductions in the administrative, parks and recreation and public works budgets.
The Fire Department budget increased by $65,510 over the original proposal. Hunter and the board had to include money for new turnout gear after spending a Fireman’s Fund grant to buy a used ladder truck for the department.
Hunter and Mayor Erma Jefferies said last week they had misunderstood the conditions of the grant ó which the town did not request ó and thought the board could use the money for its highest firefighting priority. They said the gear had been the top need until the department got new gear and Fire Chief Skipper Davis identified the truck as more important.
Davis said last week that he had not made the truck a higher priority than the gear, which he said was inferior quality. Firefighters told town officials as much in a meeting earlier this year.
Fireman’s Fund told the town it had to buy the turnout gear or return the grant money it had received.
The rest of the increase in the fire department budget, $30,000, reflects a grant the town got from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May to finish equipping the ladder truck.
“It’s in the budget to take care of your department, to take care of your people, so let’s let it stay dead please,” Rustin said, addressing Davis, who attended the meeting with a number of the town’s volunteer firefighters.
The budget adopted Monday also increases water rates from $4.98 a month to $5.10 a month and monthly sewer rates from $5.98 to $6.22. Even though Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, which supplies the town’s water and handles its waste, had recommended the new rates, Hunter said, the utility now says that increase won’t be quite enough to cover costs.
Hunter said Salisbury-Rowan will probably recommend another half-cent increase in the water and sewer rates soon, and he told board members they should approve the budget knowing they’ll probably have to adjust the rates again.
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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