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Landis may cut positions in upcoming budget year

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

LANDIS — Cuts go deep on Landis’s proposed budget as the town considers a decrease of nearly $800,000 for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The cuts include a staff reduction in police officers and firefighters, as well as a staggering reduction in mayor and aldermen expenses.

The staff cuts come in response to repeated complaints from residents about high electric bills, Town Manager Reed Linn said. In the 2016-2017 proposed budget, the town has reduced transfers from its light fund to its general fund by $150,000. The cut will lower residents’ electric rates by 5 percent, Linn said, but it meant that amount had to be cut from the general fund.

Linn said that Mayor Mike Mahaley requested he make the fund cuts from the police and fire department budgets, which Mahaley said have been “out of whack” for nearly 10 years.

“This was a tough decision, and it wasn’t nothing personal, but it’s got to be done,” Mahaley said.

The balanced police budget for the current fiscal year was more than $1 million. In the current budget year the police department was the biggest item besides the light fund, which rang in at nearly $7.5 million.

According to Linn, Mahaley requested the town trim $100,000 from its police budget.

If the proposed budget is approved, the department will terminate two positions, leaving the town with eight active police officers and two school resource officers. The proposed police budget is $913,354, and would leave no capital funds for requested new computers or cars.

The town would also cut $50,000 from the fire department, which, under the proposed budget, would result in the elimination of all part-time positions. The Landis Fire Department would be left with six full-time employees and a $625,597 budget, down from $666,331 in 2015-2016. Linn, who also works as the town’s fire chief, said the department would have to rely more heavily on volunteers.

Town officials said the cuts should not affect the Landis’s ISO rating, which in turn can affect homeowner insurance rates.

The reductions should result in a $339,000 reduction in light rates across the town. Mahaley said he ran on lowering electric rates, and plans to see that promise through.

“I’m doing what I promised people I’d do,” he said.

The mayor and aldermen expenses would also see a $23,000 cut after the previous board’s spending decision came under fire. In January Alderman Dorland Abernathy revealed that, due to a lack of a town travel policy for elected officials, the previous board spend nearly half of its $30,000 travel budget during a three-day conference in August.

“When they make bad decisions, they just walk away from it and let the citizens pay for it,” Mahaley said.

The announcement sparked controversy and outrage, and ended with the town approving a travel policy in February. As a further measure, Mahaley has proposed a $7,000 travel budget for elected officials. The mayor must approve all requests before reimbursement will be granted.

Landis’s total, balanced budget, should the proposal pass, would be $11.5 million. Its budget for the current fiscal year is $12.3 million.

Other budget items:

  • There will be no increase in property tax. Current property tax is 48 cents per $100 of property value.
  • The town will see a 2.3 percent rate increase in water and sewer.
  • There will be a $2 increase in garbage fees.
  • There will be a $55,519 increase to the street department budget, which includes a payment of $18,500 on the town’s new garbage truck.
  • The town’s parks and recreation budget has increased by nearly $142,000 due to payments on a PARTF grant the town entered into two years prior. The matching grant was for $800,000, and required the town to match 50 percent of the funds. Payments had been put off for two years, and are due in the upcoming fiscal year. The town will be paying approximately $63,000 towards the grant and to pay off pool renovation loans.
  • Local nonprofits who want the town to clean up leaf, limbs and debris will be charged a monthly fee of $8.50 if they do not currently pay the town a monthly garbage fee.
  • The town will establish a telecommunications department, including a switchboard operator for $23,000
  • There will be an increase in land use fees. Previous zoning permits were available for buildings of all sizes at $30. If approved, permits in the next fiscal year will be as follows:
    • A detached structure – $30
    • A single family unit – $40
    • A multi-family duplex – $50
    • A multi-family triplex – $75
    • A multi-family with four or more units – $100 per building
    • A commercial or industrial structure – $150
    • A new business permit – $50

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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