Granite Quarry budget OK’d with slight decrease in taxes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2016

By Mark Wineka

GRANITE QUARRY — Though a couple of members pushed for more of a decrease, the Granite Board of Aldermen voted for a $2.5 million town budget Monday night that will reduce property taxes by a quarter of a cent per $100 valuation.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Brinkley and Alderman Jim LaFevers lobbied for a whole cent’s reduction in the rate, but after some discussion, LaFevers agreed with a rate of  41.75 cents per $100 valuation, down from the current fiscal year’s 42 cents per $100 valuation.

The final board vote on budget approval at the 41.75-cents-per-$100 valuation rate was 3-1, with LaFevers, Arin Wilhelm and Jim Costantino voting for it and Brinkley against it.

Mayor Bill Feather only votes in case of a tie, though he expressed some concerns about going less than the 1/4-cent rate reduction recommended by Town Manager Phil Conrad.

Brinkley said the town had been spending too much over the past 10 years, and he described the budget as having “plenty of fluff” that could be trimmed out. He pushed for a whole cent reduction on the tax rate.

“I just think we’ve been a little loose with the money in the past,” Brinkley said.

LaFevers agreed with him at first and asked aloud whether it made sense to do only a quarter of a cent instead of a whole cent.

A penny on Granite Quarry’s tax rate generates $20,064, according to Conrad, so aldermen would have had to cut roughly $15,000 more to reach a rate of 41 cents per $100 valuation.

LaFevers initially said if the aldermen couldn’t find line items from which to cut a total of $15,000, then the money should come out of the town’s fund balance.

Wilhelm said the town has plenty of projects on the horizon with its downtown master plan, and he suggested not reducing the tax rate at all and keeping it at 42 cents per $100 valuation.

Costantino, the newest member of the board, was willing to go with Conrad’s recommendation. He said both he and Conrad needed a whole year under their belts to have a better feel for the numbers.

“We kind of got some different views,” Feather said at one point. “… Somebody’s got to start with some recommendations.”

At an earlier public hearing, no one from the public spoke for or against the budget. Meanwhile, Conrad defended the numbers.

“What you have before you is the best guess at this point,” he said of the projected budget. Conrad said he hoped to bring back future budgets that have more accurate revenue estimates — made sharper by his experience — and budgets in which tax rates can be further reduced.

Conrad said he already had asked the Fire Department to trim its capital needs request by $10,000, representing purchases of a thermal imager and new hose. The Police Department’s request was cut by $4,000, which was the cost of a radar enforcement sign, Conrad said.

Brinkley noted fire and police services account for about half of the town’s budget and that more cuts probably would have had to come from those services.

The 2016-17 budget approved Monday night goes into effect Friday. Brinkley and other aldermen said they did not like the document format being used that was established by the previous town manager. Brinkley said the board needed something more “user-friendly” in the future.

With the new tax rate. the owner of a $150,000 house would see his Granite Quarry property tax bill drop from $630 a year to $626.25 — a savings of $3.75. The owner of property valued at $250,000 would see his tax bill reduced from $1,050 to 1,043.75, a savings of $6.25 a year.

The town will continue to charge an $11-a-month fee for garbage collection.

Breaking things down by departments, the proposed $2.5 million budget allocates $19,713 for the governing body, $437,186 for administration, $642,045 for police, $372,673 for fire, $199,989 for maintenance, $41,171 for parks and recreation, $169,564 for environmental and $633,534 for projects.

Within the administration budget is a $45,000 allocation in “visionary funds,” which will be used toward implementing some of the recommendations of the downtown master plan.

While the Police Department’s (Granite Quarry-Faith Police Authority) budget is $642,045, the town of Faith will pay $135,472 of that figure, putting Granite Quarry’s actual police costs at $506,573.

The 2016-2017 budget calls for the purchase and outfitting of a new police car.

Most of the “projects” budget reflects the money going toward sidewalks. The $490,00 project for new sidewalks includes $384,000 in federal money and a $50,000 grant from the Carolina Thread Trail, to go with the town’s $56,000 contribution.

The new sidewalks proposed would be along sections of U.S. 52, Kerns Street, Oak Street and Crook Street.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.