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Taxes remain unchanged in China Grove’s proposed budget

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — Property taxes won’t go up next year if the Town Council sticks with its proposed budget.

With notable growth in tax revenue this year, China Grove’s budget for the coming year keeps the property tax rate at 58 cents per $100 in valuation, which equates to $580 per year in taxes for a $100,000 house. The proposed budget also includes adding a full-time planner position, a 5 percent merit pool for employees, a 2.1 cost-of-living allowance, construction of a stage in Hanna Park, air packs for the fire department and money for parks improvements.

The 5 percent merit pool for employees means that department directors could give as much as a 5 percent raise based on job performance.

The Town Council on Tuesday discussed a number of small potential changes in the budget and asked for town staff to return a document next week with updates included.

Some of the discussion Tuesday included making plans to buy a ladder truck for the fire department, spending money to improve the roadside appearance on U.S. 29, reduce the schedule of the Rowan Express bus service, and ensure that money saved for road repairs gets spent instead of remaining in a reserve account.

Asked about additions and subtractions to the budget, Mayor Lee Withers expressed confidence that the Town Council will avoid increasing taxes.

“I think this board would tell you that before we would have a tax increase, we would probably reduce services,” Withers said.

The budget presented Tuesday says China Grove’s tax base — the total value of all taxable property in the town — increased by $20 million over the prior year. Before the start of the 2016-17 budget year, the tax base was about $280 million, said Finance Director Mary Jo Bopp. The 2017-18 budget is based on a tax base of more than $300 million.

Sales tax revenue in the current year have been larger than expected, Bopp said.

Withers said the town has a “healthy” fund balance, which is partially a savings account. The budget, as proposed Tuesday, would use $466,800 from cash reserves to pay for expenditures. Withers cited the town’s projected $1.93 million fund balance, much larger than the state’s minimum, as a reason a tax increase won’t be needed.

The Town Council on Tuesday didn’t take any formal action on the budget other than setting its annual public hearing on the document, which is scheduled for June 6.

Some of the significant items in the budget include $100,000 for unspecified improvements to the community building on South Myrtle Avenue; $70,000 to purchase air packs for the fire department; $40,000 for a new police car; and $40,000 for a downtown stage at Hanna Park.

The budget sets a $45,000 salary for a town planner. Employee benefits, technology and travel will add to the cost. Currently, China Grove contracts with Rowan County for planning services.

Members of the Town Council dug deep into individual aspects of the budget during Tuesday’s meeting.

Even as the council pays for a just-purchased firetruck, Withers encouraged other council members to support saving money for a ladder truck.

The council also briefly discussed the usefulness of $7,500 that pays for the Rowan Express transportation service. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Stroud said he’s never seen more than three people on the bus at once. The council didn’t come to a formal decision on the matter but discussed whether to reduce the service.

Stroud also encouraged the council to spend rather than save roughly $200,000 that can be used for road improvements.

Public Works Director Dave Ketner said there are many street projects in the town that would quickly consume that money.

“By tomorrow, I can have that $200,000 gone,” Ketner said.

The 2017-18 budget year starts July 1. The Town Council can pass its budget June 6, immediately after holding a public hearing.

The council asked Bopp to prepare an updated budget by Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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