City Council receives proposed budget, approves solar array for RCCC

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 20, 2015

By David Purtell

Salisbury City Council Tuesday received a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that includes a slight tax increase in order to make up for lost revenue.

New City Manager Lane Bailey said his first budget for the city “has been a challenge.” He said the most significant issue is the loss of $320,000 in revenue due to the expiration of the local business privilege-license tax, which ended after the new year after the state Legislature voted to do away with it.

To replace the lost revenue, the budget includes a 1.49 cents increase in the property tax rate, which would bring the rate to 67.18 cents per $100 of valuation. Last year, City Council approved a budget with a 1.95 cent rate increase.

Bailey said the fact that property revaluations are slightly down this year was also taken into consideration when setting the rate increase. The $320,000 from the privilege-license tax accounts for 1.18 cents of property tax, he said.

The budget includes a 2.5 percent average merit pay increase for city employees. And Bailey also said the budget calls for the hiring of a new Parks and Recreation Director, which the city has not had for a couple of years since the former director was fired. As a cost saving measure, the position was never filled.

Bailey is also asking to increase the residential stormwater fee 75 cents to $5. He said the city’s stormwater fund has been diminishing and the fee increase is necessary to keep up with the city’s needs.

As city officials have said in the past, the budget calls for increases in rates for Fibrant video (TV)  packages in order to keep up with increasing costs from providers. The rate increases range from 6 percent to 18 percent depending on the package.

The estimated revenue for the city’s general fund is $40.27 million — up from the $36 million budget approved for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. The water and sewer fund budget is $22.7 million.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held during council’s regular meeting June 2.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, council approved Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s request to rezone 9.6 acres of land from residential to institutional campus. The college owns the land and will use 4.5 acres of it for a solar array that will provide 35 percent to 40 percent of the college’s annual energy needs, according to school officials.

The 1 megawatt, $3.4 million solar farm will be built along Old Concord Road adjacent to a drive that leads to the college. The array will be set back 250 feet from Old Concord Road and a buffer zone, trees and shrubs, will provide “visual separation,” as city planners refer to it. The panels will face south, be 10-feet tall, and are expected to last 30 to 35 years.

The solar array will be paid for by private investors, including a $1 million donation from a private citizen. No public funds will be used for the array, according to officials.

When the issue was in front of the city’s Planning Board, more than 10 people spoke against the solar array — mostly people who lived in a subdivision on Stone Ridge Drive across Old Concord Road near the proposed site for the array. But only one person spoke in opposition to the plans during a public hearing Tuesday. Tim Canup, who lives on Old Concord Road, said he didn’t want the land rezoned because it wouldn’t be consistent with the residential zoning around it — to the north, south and east is residential. The campus is to the west.

Canup said he opposes the land being used for anything other than residential purposes.

Council members praised the college for its decision to use solar energy. Councilman Pete Kennedy said it’s important for the college to be an agent of change.

Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell called the plans “brilliant.”

In other business Tuesday, council:

•  approved updates to the city’s Historic District Design Guidelines, which cover residential and non-residential buildings in the city’s five historical districts.

• approved an ordinance amendment restricting truck traffic from using Newsome Road as a cut through between Bringle Ferry and Stokes Ferry roads. The city had received complaints from residents about the high volume of trucks using the road, which runs through a neighborhood.

Contact Reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.