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Salisbury in good financial shape, city staff says

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — During a mid-year financial check-up, a city official said Salisbury is in good shape but Fibrant sign-ups are running behind projections.
To meet City Council’s request for more detailed financial information, staff on Tuesday presented a quarterly report. The reports began in October.
The city has collected about 82 percent of property tax revenue, slightly better than last year at this time, Assistant City Manager John Sofley said. That’s a sign the economy is improving because people are paying their taxes more quickly, Sofley said.
Sales tax revenues are higher than the city anticipated by a “significant amount,” Sofley said, another sign the economy is picking up.
At mid-year, sales tax revenues for 2012 total $1.3 million, up from $1.1 million last year at this time.
Sales tax revenue exceeded the city’s projections by $28,000 in July, $42,000 in August and $73,000 in September.
At the halfway point in the fiscal year, most city funds have generated more than half the revenue expected for the year and spent less than half the expenditures projected.
“Anytime we see revenues exceeding budget and expenditures less than budget, that’s a positive thing,” Councilman Brian Miller said.
Miller said the city must communicate the information publicly so residents understand the financial picture. The report will be posted on the city’s website.
Water-sewer revenues are slightly above projected figures, with sales of about $12 million at mid-year. Fares for public transportation are up, likely due to high gas prices, Sofley said.
Fibrant, the city’s new high-speed broadband utility, has fallen behind projections, which staff previously reported.
The fiber-to-the-home system has more than 1,700 customers and is growing steadily, but not at the rate projected, Sofley said. An average of 120 customers sign up each month.
“Growth is steady and not at the rate we had anticipated in the business plan, but steady and consistent,” Sofley said.
Fibrant bills more than $200,000 a month and will generate $2.4 million in revenue this year, he said.
Although subscriber and revenue figures are down, costs are also down, Sofley said.
“Fewer sign-ups mean less installation costs and programming costs,” he said.
Fibrant, which competes with private companies to sell Internet, cable TV and phone service, is expected to operate at a loss for four years. While revenues will cover the $1.7 million debt service this year, Fibrant must borrow $3.7 million from the city’s water and sewer reserve fund to operate the system.
While the city is putting money into Fibrant, the overall financial picture is good, Mayor Paul Woodson said.
“It looks like we are in pretty good shape,” he said. “Better shape than I thought we’d be in.”
The Post will look at Fibrant’s first year in operation on Sunday.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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