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Proposed Salisbury city budget would increase taxes, water and sewer rate

By Jessica Coates
jessica.coates@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In his budget message, City Manager Lane Bailey said fiscal year 2017-18 was a “difficult year financially with very little growth in property taxes.”

The message was written at the beginning of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

Bailey said that, because of the lack of growth in property taxes and increasing inflation costs, he was recommending a one-cent tax increase “to maintain existing services at current levels.”

Taxpayers avoided having a two-cent tax increase because of a $280,421 increase in sales revenue, which Bailey said was the highest increase in two years.

Based on the median Salisbury home price of $135,500, the one-cent property tax increase would cost homeowners an extra $13.55 annually.

For a person who owns a $75,000 home, it would cost $7.50 more annually.

For a person who owns a $250,000 home, it would cost $25 more annually.

The one-cent tax increase — which would raise the city rate from .7096 to .7196 — would generate $280,421 for the city’s General Fund.

Bailey said he is also recommending a 2.15 percent increase in water and sewer rates.

In his message, he said Salisbury-Rowan Utilities “strives to maintain fair and equitable rates for (its) consumers.”

But at the current rate, he said, “it is extremely challenging to treat our water and wastewater while still meeting required regulations and delivering excellent customer service.”

An average monthly residential water and sewer bill for a customer using 5,000 gallons per month would increase to $69.76 — an increase of $1.45 for the month or less than 5 cents per day.

The city used the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers for the Southern region to calculate the increase.

Raises for city employees

In the proposed 2018-19 budget, Public Services Department workers would receive a salary increase taken from the General Fund and the Stormwater fund.

Bailey said in the budget message that it has been “difficult to recruit” new public services employees with the current salary offered.

“This will help us fill vacancies in the department,” Bailey said in the message.

Approximately $110,000 has been budgeted from the General Fund and approximately $24,000 has been budgeted from the Stormwater fund for the raises.

The city is also looking at giving raises to fire department employees.

In his message, Bailey said hourly employees’ annual salaries are similar to those in surrounding communities.

But, he said, the pay rate of the fire department’s hourly employees is lower than those in surrounding communities because they work 24-hour shifts.

Bailey said the city would “look for savings” in the next fiscal year that could be translated into raises for the department.

Those raises would be implemented January 1, 2019.

Bailey is also recommending a 1.8 percent salary increase for city employees to adjust for inflation and a 1.2 percent average merit increase for city employees.

General Fund balance projects

In his message, Bailey said the General Fund balance is “above average” at 40 percent of general fund expenditures, compared to the Local Government Commission minimum of 8 percent.

He said that allowed for larger projects to be completed “while still maintaining a healthy Fund balance,” including the extension of Newsome Road, a housing stabilization and revitalization plan and the replacement of a city roof and HVAC system.

The grand total recommended by the city manager for special projects is $4,126,249.

But, with $1,525,400 in revenue, the cost to the city would be $2,600,849.

Effects of Fibrant lease

Bailey said that, although the “overwhelming approval” of the Fibrant-Hotwire lease was one of the “positive outlooks on (the city’s) horizon,” it likely would not yield high savings in the upcoming fiscal year.

He said he expected the General Fund contribution to Fibrant — soon to be rebranded as “Fision” by Hotwire — to decrease in the coming years, which would free up General Fund money for more projects.

The budget must be finalized and approved by City Council by June 30.

The 2018-19 fiscal year begins July 1.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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