City manager seeks tax hike, fee increase for public safety, paving

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 31, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — City Manager Doug Paris recommends increasing Salisbury’s property tax rate by 2 cents — a penny for public safety and a penny for paving.
Paris, new to the city manager’s job, presented his first proposed budget to City Council on Friday afternoon. The public can view the budget at and comment at 4 p.m. June 5 at City Hall.
The proposed increase would put Salisbury’s tax rate at 63.35 cents per $100 of valuation, still lower than the revenue neutral rate that former City Manager David Treme proposed last year, Paris said.
The increase would move four police officers to the city’s payroll. They have been covered by a federal grant that expires next year.
If the city doesn’t pick up the tab for the officers, Salisbury would have to repay the nearly $1 million the feds have spent on the officers in the past three years.
The penny increase for public safety also would pay for turnout gear for firefighters and other safety equipment that was deferred last year.
The penny increase for street paving would generate $265,000, just about enough to pave the eight worst-ranked streets in the city, including Lash Drive, which is No. 7. The street paving budget has been cut for four years to balance the budget.
Paris recommended no water-sewer fee increase for the first time in 21 years.
But he said the time has come for Salisbury to establish a storm water utility to comply with unfunded federal mandates in the Clean Water Act. Most N.C. cities pegged by the federal permit requirements have already set up storm water utilities, including Concord, Kannapolis and Landis, but Salisbury has put it off for several years.
The proposed budget for the storm water utility is $1.7 million, including three employees and capital improvements to the city’s 100-year-old system.
Creating the utility would require a $4.25 monthly fee for residents, Paris said. Businesses also would pay a monthly fee, which has not been determined.
Paris recommended converting the city’s garbage service to a self-sustaining enterprise fund run like a business, which would require bumping the fee from $1 per month to $14.06 per month. The city would no longer subsidize garbage service, he said.
Paris recommended a $1,000 raise for employees who have a job performance rating of “satisfactory” or better. He would cover the $235,000 cost of the raises with money saved by eliminating three frozen positions, as well as savings in lower health insurance costs.
Paris said he would not take the $1,000 salary bump and refused a raise for the next three years.
Other budget highlights:
• Reinstating funding for street lighting to eliminate the backlog of neighborhoods waiting for new street lights.
• The new $14.06 garbage fee is lower than Spencer and East Spencer’s fees but higher than Granite Quarry’s.
• Paris recommended charging a fee for pick-up of bulky items at the curb. Proposed fees range from $5 for one piece of furniture to $50 for bulk brush removal. Standard neighborhood leaf and limb pickup would remain free.
• Paris said improving the storm water system will alleviate flooding in some neighborhoods. The budget would include mapping the current system.
If the federal government audits the city’s storm water permit and Salisbury is out of compliance, fines begin at $37,000 per day, he said.
Salisbury’s $4.25 monthly storm water fee would be more than Kannapolis ($4) but less than Concord ($4.30), Winston-Salem ($4.50) and Landis ($5).
• Paris said Mike Jury, the new general manager for Fibrant, will make financial recommendations in August to City Council about the two-year-old broadband utility.
“It’s been tough,” Paris said. “It’s been tough for all businesses.”
Paris encouraged City Council to consider Fibrant a two-year-old child “bright-eyed and growing” who needs “support to reach its full potential.”
Fibrant will continue to borrow money next year from other city funds to cover the costs of operation, Paris said, but is still on track to be self-sufficient by 2014.
• Other than three storm water utility positions, Paris recommends no new hires.
• Paris recommends no new debt issuances next year and said his budget would pay off $7.2 million in existing debt, bringing the city just below 20 percent of the legal debt limit of $174 million.
Councilman Brian Miller said the city may want to take advantage of low interest rates for capital improvement projects before rates begin to climb.
In general, council members reacted favorably to the proposed budget.
Mayor Paul Woodson said he supports the 2-cent property tax rate increase and said Paris’ budget was “fairly reasonable.”
But the garbage fee is too high for Woodson’s liking.
“We might have to sharpen our pencil on that one a little bit,” he said.
Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said although the budget includes no water-sewer rate increase, residents will still see a new fee on their water bill for the storm water utility.
He said he supports pay raises for employees but is saving the rest of his comments for the budget workshop.
Woodson also praised the $1,000 pay increase and said it’s the first time he’s seen government give a pay hike by using savings from eliminating positions.
Council member Maggie Blackwell supported the street paving initiative and congratulated Paris on his budget presentation.
Miller called the presentation “logical.”
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz did not attend the meeting.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.