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Despite mayor’s protest, Cleveland hikes tax rate 2 cents

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.comCLEVELAND ó Despite passionate protests from Mayor Jim Brown, the town’s Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 Wednesday night to adopt a budget raising the tax rate from 19 to 21 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Commissioner John Bradford voted against the increase, and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Gabriel arrived after the vote was taken. Commissioners Pat Phifer, John I. Steele Jr. and Mary Frank “Frankie” Fleming-Adkins voted for the budget that includes the tax hike.
Brown, who is only allowed to vote in case of a tie, said, “You see how I feel and have for the past 12 years about raising taxes. I hate it.”
When Steele asked how a 2-cent rate increase would affect tax bills, Town Clerk Cathy Payne said, for example, that the taxes on a house valued at $150,000 would increase by $30.
“Guys, it’s not about dollars,” Brown responded. “We’ve got people here struggling to make ends meet right now.”
Phifer responded: “It is about dollars.” If commissioners don’t raise the tax rate this year, he said, depending on whether there are any emergency expenditures, they may end up having to raise it by 5 cents next year.
Brown responded: “I say we address that next year. I’ll be right here in the boat with you.”
The town has enough money to cover emergencies, he said, with about $2 million in reserve funds. Payne, when asked, said the money ó which is invested in bank certificates of deposit ó draws about $90,000 a year in interest.
In a year when other municipalities are “biting the bullet” and maintaining tax rates because of the poor economy, Brown said, “I’d hate to see Cleveland be the only municipality that doesn’t bite the bullet …”
Phifer, who made the motion to pass the budget with the proposed tax-rate increase, said towns maintaining their rates are increasing the cost of services to compensate for increases in projected expenditures. At least the Cleveland board is being up front about it, he said.
Expenditures are just going to keep going up, Phifer said.
“You’re not a prophet,” Brown responded, “anymore than I am.”
The budget, which takes effect July 1, calls for $847,710 in projected revenues and expenditures, $304,550 in water funds and $215,750 in sewer funds.
Projected expenditure increases include $4,140 for garbage pickup, $4,800 for water and sewer services and the cost of adding a fifth, full-time police officer.
Expenditures for police services are projected to increase from $271,934 this budget year to $361,893 in the coming budget year.
Brown was out of the country on a church mission trip May 21 when the rest of the board came up with the proposed budget at a special work session. The board postponed a vote at its regular June 9 meeting because Steele and Fleming-Adkins were out due to illness and scheduled Wednesday’s called meeting.
Steele questioned Brown discussing with Police Chief David Allen delaying adding the new officer until the third quarter of the upcoming fiscal year. Steele said he wanted to attend similar, future meetings.
Allen said waiting to implement the position would not affect the department’s coverage because the numbers of hours would remain the same. The new position would simply reduce the number of hours part-time officers work.

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