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Landis holds first retreat to discuss 2016-17 budget

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

LANDIS — The Landis Board of Aldermen plans to focus on reducing the town’s electric rates for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“We got elected on a promise. I don’t know how some people feel but I intend on keeping ours — my part of it.” Mayor Mike Mahaley said Saturday at the town’s budget retreat.

The town, which provides its own electricity to residents, has seen large electric bills and complaints from residents for the past several years. Mahaley hopes to reduce electric rates in the next few years, but reminded people that “there’s not going to be any miracles here.” Sharp rate cuts don’t happen overnight.

“The only way that I can see that we’re going to lower electric rates is with a reduction in all departments. We’re just gonna have to cut expenses,” he said.

Saturday, the board and town employees went over revenues and expenditures and looked at requests from each department. But Mahaley warned that the next few years were going to be “lean and might be mean” if residents were to see reduced rates on their electric bills, and departments would have to choose necessities.

Based on revenue to date, Landis is projecting to have $6.8 million in its light fund for the next fiscal year — that’s a $530,000 decrease from the current year. Town Manager Reed Linn advised the board that the town hadn’t hit its biggest sales months yet, and the projected amount would fluctuate based on information received from the state later this spring. Nearly half of Landis’ electric customers reside outside the town, in China Grove or Kannapolis.

Linn also told the board that electric rates would go down once the town paid off debt from the light fund — a whopping $13.3 million. Linn projected the debt would be paid off by 2031.

“If I live that long,” Alderman Tommy Garver commented.

Mahaley said he’d been told the same thing in 2007 – except then the timeframe had only been a few years — not 15.

While the town works to cut high bills, Mahaley said he planned to promote transparency about when wholesale rates increases for the town or other changes occur.

One of the changes the board noted is that state sales tax will be listed on bills beginning July 1.

In other business:

  • The board’s general fund may see a projected $9,000 increase from property tax, Linn said. The town has seen a 20 cent tax increase in the past 16 years. Landis is expecting a $60,000 increase in its unrestricted fund and a $10,000 increase in its restricted funds with a total projected $2.6 million for its general fund in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
  • Departments made requests for expenditures including: three new patrol cars and personnel pay adjustments for the police department, the further development of a downtown passive park and a telecommunications system upgrade. Linn said the town may look at leasing the patrol cars, which would cost an estimated $30,000 for a four-year lease instead of the $108,000 it would cost to purchase new vehicles.
  • Police Chief Bob Wood asked the board to consider looking into building a new police department. Landis Police’s current facility is shared with fire, EMS and an SBI office, and Wood says the force has outgrown the building.

“Any consideration you could give, we’d certainly appreciate it,” Wood said.

A new department would be funded by a USDA grant.

  • The board also looked at constructing a greenway between West Ryder Avenue to Mt. Moriah Church Road, something that’s been discussed for several years, Mahaley said.

“That is a project that’s out there,” he said.

  • The town has about $1.5 million left in bonds and will be looking at the construction of a new elevated water tank and water main upgrades on the northeast side of town.
  • Landis has approximately $20.7 million owed in debt service, with annual payments of about $725,000 for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The town reports projected revenue increases in all departments except the light fund, which has a projected decrease, and the storm water fund, which has no projected change.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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