Spencer releases proposed budget

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2011

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Proposed budget cuts in Spencer would eliminate two full-time and one part-time position, cut another position to part-time and split one employee’s time between two departments.
The $2.44 million budget would eliminate a replacement police car and one set of fire department turnout gear, as well as furlough remaining town employees for three days during the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Town Manager Larry Smith released the proposal Friday after a difficult budget workshop last month where Alderman Jeff Morris said he wanted more cuts.
Mayor Jody Everhart doesn’t support the plan and said some aldermen are playing politics with the budget because it’s an election year.
While the town needs to keep taxes as low as possible, residents are still willing to pay for services, Everhart said.
“For the good of the town, we need to keep (the tax rate) at revenue-neutral,” he said. “I would like to see that reinstated.”
Smith’s original budget, which cut one town position, had a tax rate of 65.6 cents.
That rate, called revenue-neutral, would bring in the same amount of money as the current 60-cent rate because Spencer’s property values fell due to revaluation.
Morris objected last month to the revenue-neutral rate, saying it would give Spencer the highest tax rate in the county. He asked Smith to prepare a budget using a 62.8 cent rate, halfway between the current rate and revenue-neutral.
That rate resulted in more proposed layoffs.
“First and foremost, I will say that I regret the impact on the individual employees and their families,” Morris said in an email.
Spencer residents will not suffer from lack of services, Morris said, and Smith’s plan makes sure duties are carried out in alternate ways.
Morris insisted the town not dip into its fund balance.
“The next revaluation won’t come until 2014, so I’m mindful that any plan to take from reserves this year would, at a minimum, involve dipping further into reserves for the next three consecutive budgets as well, or raising taxes,” Morris said. “It is my thought that such irresponsible planning would be kicking the can down the road, for future boards to ‘fix.’ ”
Morris’ directive prevented Smith from using any of the town’s $1.3 million reserve to balance the budget.
Everhart said he would consider supporting the use of fund balance to prevent some of the cuts. He said he’s concerned with cuts to public safety, including the eliminated police car and fire turnout gear, as well as staff layoffs.
In an election year when all seats on the town board are up for grabs, some aldermen are playing politics, Everhart said.
If aldermen adopt the proposed budget, “this board is taking the easy way out,” he said. “They can say ‘I lowered the taxes,’ but you actually increased the taxes.”
Everhart, who only votes in case of a tie, said residents would rather pay a revenue-neutral rate and keep services. The board will have to make some cuts, he said, but the budget proposal goes too far.
He supports the proposed change to curbside garbage pickup, which will eliminate one sanitation worker position. The town always has provided backyard garbage collection.
The budget keeps land management services in-house and maintains the director position but cuts the code enforcement officer job to part-time.
While Morris has talked about contracting land management services, Everhart said he would oppose the move.
“I want to keep it,” Everhart said. “If we were to lose it, that would set us back 20 years.”
The budget also would eliminate the account clerk II position, an administrator who works in the front office. Instead, the administrative position in the Spencer Police Department would take over those duties, with the salary split 50-50 between police and administration.
The town lost $26,000 annually when the state ended a security contract with Spencer police to patrol the N.C. Transportation Museum.
Morris said he hasn’t yet decided whether to support the budget proposal and anticipates other aldermen will find some aspects untenable and move to reinstate some items or positions.
“As those proposed cuts go by the wayside, I would want something else cut in order to avoid a planned dip into reserve funds,” he said.
Other aldermen could not be reached for comment or said they hadn’t had time to study the budget proposal because they had been out of town over the holiday weekend.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Spencer proposed 2011-12 budget
• $2.44 million total
• 62.8 cent property tax rate (2.8-cent increase)
• No cost of living adjustment, merit increase or
longevity pay
• Cuts administrative clerk and sanitation work
• Cuts code enforcement officer to parttime
• Splits police administrative position between two
• No capital expenditures
• Three-day furlough for employees