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$49.6 million Kannapolis budget would leave tax rate unchanged

By Hugh Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ń The public will have its say on the proposed Kannapolis city budget at a hearing scheduled for the June 9 Kannapolis City Council meeting.
The preliminary budget, totaling $49.6 million, includes equipment and personnel for the city’s new fire station, funds for a new customer service program and ń perhaps most anticipated of all ń efforts to raise city employees’ salaries to market levels.
Still hanging in the balance are a much-talked-about recycling program and continued expansion of the city’s public safety capability.
And while the budget does not recommend a tax increase, a debate on whether or not to cut property taxes is looming.
In the proposed budget, City Manager Mike Legg recommends that the property tax rate be left unchanged at 49.7 cents per $100 value.
The city stands to gain about $4.1 million in additional revenue for the coming year, with over $3 million of that due to this year’s Cabarrus County property revaluation.
The countywide assessment upped values in Kannapolis by an average of 9 cents per $100 on the current tax rate, according to Legg’s summary of the new budget.
Following Thursday’s budget workshop, Legg said that he felt pleased with the budget so far.
“We’re able to look at adjustment to salaries, which is good since we haven’t done that in so long.”
He was referring to a study by Springsted Inc. which reported last month that some municipal workers’ salaries in Kannapolis lagged behind those of public and private sector competitors.
Legg also praised the addition of funds for a new city customer service program, planned in response to criticism from residents and those doing business with Kannapolis.The program funds of $197,982 include salary and benefits for a new city customer service manager as well as consolidation of some services at a new customer service center.
Another major expense in the coming years will be equipment and personnel for Kannapolis Fire Station No. 5, slated to open in January 2009 and adding $933,143 in equipment and staff costs.
Councilman Ken Geathers praised these needed developments, especially the salary increases.
“I like that we’re going to bring all our employees up … so that we can be in sync with the municipalities around us,” Geathers said.
But he said he was disappointed in the lack of a recycling program.
Estimates of the cost of curbside recycling have put it out of budgetary reach without a tax increase or monthly user fee ń alternatives no council member is ready to accept just yet.
Geathers said that a monthly recycling fee might be the only option, adding that Kannapolis was the only city of its size in the area without a recycling program.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s something we’re going to have to do,” Geathers said.
Geathers also said the city needs to look ahead to the future costs of building or leasing a new city hall and constructing a fire station to replace aging facilities.
Councilman Richard Anderson echoed concerns over recycling fees and said it was time for the city to consider tax relief.
“The city has needs, don’t misunderstand me. But because of the economy being in the condition that it’s in right now, people are suffering more than ever before,” Anderson said.
He said he would like to propose lowering the rate by 1.7 cents down to 48 cents per $100, but said he “doesn’t think we have the votes.”
Still, Anderson promised to put forth some level of tax cut for discussion before the budget is passed.
“By leaving the current tax rate where it’s at, without reducing it, you’re not giving any of the citizens a break,” Anderson said.
Despite the increased income, Legg said that it will still be several years before increased revenues from the North Carolina Research Campus will begin to come into play.
With massive growth in and around the city, Legg said in his budget summary, the time has come to start planning wisely.
“One of the overriding themes of this budget is … financial stewardship and responsibility,” Legg said.
“We simply cannot wait until the growth is upon us to begin to address past needs.”
Contact Hugh Fisher at 704-797-4245 or hfisher@salisburypost.com.

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