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Spencer budget includes pay raises, no tax hike

SPENCER — While Rowan County commissioners and elected officials in several towns and cities consider property tax increases, Spencer’s proposed budget calls for no tax hike and includes funding for a new position and pay raises.
Town Manager Larry Smith proposed reinstating Spencer’s full-time code enforcement officer position and giving town employees a 3 percent cost-of-living raise. Smith’s proposed budget also includes bonuses for Spencer employees based on how long they have worked for the town.
The town’s property tax rate would remain 62.8 cents, one of the highest in Rowan County. The budget public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Town Hall. No additional budget workshops are scheduled.
In 2011, the town cut 3.5 positions to balance the budget, including the full-time code enforcement officer. The town recently has employed a part-time code enforcement officer, but many residents still complain about code violations.
In his budget message to the town board, Smith acknowledged that aldermen have not yet reached consensus on whether the town should have a full-time code enforcement officer. Alderman Reid Walters has suggested using a member of the Spencer Fire Department for housing issues such as inspections and maintaining the current part-time position in the land management division.
Aldermen also have considered two part-time code enforcement positions.
For several years, Spencer town hall has not had enough staff to handle the board’s goals and initiatives and provide consistent customer service, Smith said. During planning sessions and budget discussions, aldermen agreed the town needed more employees if Smith could find the money without raising taxes.
Smith said reinstating the full-time officer would be the most efficient way to ensure consistent code enforcement. The full-time position also would ensure greater accountability and allow the town’s new land management director — Spencer recently hired Kathryn Clifton, the GIS coordinator for the city of Salisbury — to develop the job into a more proactive role in building up housing strategies and cleanup programs, Smith said.
Smith’s budget also continues funding to complete two major town projects, a needs study of town property and a parks and recreation master plan. It also continues funding for economic development initiatives.
“While we don’t have the funds or the manpower to achieve all of our desired goals, this budget prioritizes funding into the areas established by this administration and the Board of Aldermen,” Smith said.
Mayor Jody Everhart said he was pleased with the proposed budget, especially holding the line on taxes and including pay raises for employees.
“Town employees have been doing so good staying within the budget and taking care of town equipment,” he said.
The board will consider a new scale that could mean larger longevity bonuses, Everhart said. More aggressive raises would cost the town about an extra $4,000 a year, but it would be worth it, he said.
The new fiscal year starts July 1. Smith’s $2.6 million proposed budget includes:
• Governing body $44,199, decrease of $3,800. No cost for municipal elections, which occur in odd-numbered years.
• Administration $377,168, increase of $5,302. Additional $5,000 for economic development.
• Police $874,444, increase of $2,193. Adds school resource officer for North Middle School, although revenue from a contract with the school system will offset that amount. Also, funds allocated for a Mobile Data Terminal matching grant approved by the board. Includes a car replacement, one camera and one radar.
• Fire $274,669, decrease of $3,707. Includes the second Auto Electric Defibrillator to replace two that were phased out. Station payments decrease each year through the fiscal year 2016-2017 payoff.
• Streets $355,799, an increase of $17,411. Includes the purchase of one replacement mower and a replacement light-duty truck.
• Solid waste and yard waste $329,862, increase of $3,902. Current budget included funding for a bulk-price rate order of ongoing cart maintenance and replacement needs, which covered upcoming budget as well.
• Land management $122,511, decrease of $13,652. Includes $18,400 for completion of facilities needs and parks and rec studies and $24,000 for the reinstatement of a full-time code enforcement position.
• Library $75,377, increase of $372. Includes the upgrade and ongoing cost of adding wireless internet and includes ongoing loan repayment of the library building repair project.
• Recreation $208,792, increase of $192,542. Includes town’s second N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund matching grant for continuing development of Stanback Forest (Spencer Woods).
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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