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Residents voice budget concerns at Salisbury City Council meeting

SALISBURY — Concerns about water and sewer rates, living wages and tax increases came up during the Salisbury City Council’s public hearing about the fiscal year 2018-19 budget.

The proposed budget would increase the property tax rate by 1 cent and increase water and sewer rates by 2.15 percent.

It would also allot money for salary increases for Public Services Department employees and make room for potential raises for firefighters.

Eleven people spoke during the budget public hearing Tuesday evening, but some spoke or added to their comments during the general public-comment period.

Mike-o Martell asked council members and City Manager Lane Bailey to “please” not raise water and sewer rates.

“Because raising those rates, I fear, will have the strongest negative impact on the most financially vulnerable citizens,” Martelli said. “Especially those with families.”

Martelli said not everyone owns property but everyone uses water.

“A low-income family with three or four kids, they’re going to be using a lot more water than a retired couple will be. And if they’re low-income, it’s going to have a real impact on them,” Martelli said.

Several people also raised concerns about the city not paying all its employees a living wage.

“I was very appreciative of understanding that we’re going to be raising some of our starting wages here,” said Corey Hill. “But I am not happy about the part-time people.”

Hill was referencing a conversation earlier in the meeting between Mayor Al Heggins and Bailey, in which Heggins asked Bailey if the city could pay all city employees a living wage.

Bailey said the city is planning to do so, with the exception of some part-time workers.

“These are our citizens,” Hill said. “These are our employees of our city.”

Helen Grier said raising the minimum wage for city employees would be good for the city.

“A livable wage, it gives freedom to live without public assistance and it boosts the economy,” Grier said. “The more money you make, the more money you will spend.”

Dora Mbuwayesango said she is part of the national Poor People’s Campaign and spoke on behalf of the poor.

When you are thinking about helping elevate the lives of the poor, don’t do it in a sneaky way that makes it even more difficult while on the surface it looks like you are helping,” Mbuwayesango said. “And that’s what I’m looking at when you raise the money on the basic needs … and then you raise their pay just a little. You are not helping. You are pacifying yourselves.”

Nancy Vick said she would have no problem with the city raising her taxes.

“Go ahead. Raise our taxes. Do whatever you want. Firemen, police — they don’t make enough,” Vick said. “We need to support the people that are saving our lives.”

Angela Mangham said she doesn’t oppose raising taxes.

“But I do oppose it when (the police) don’t patrol my neighborhood,” Mangham said. “We all want to be protected, and we all want our property protected.”

When all comments had been made, Heggins said balancing the budget for a local municipality is “one of the most difficult exercises and endeavors that a city manager can engage in.”

“So we thank you for what you’ve said today,” Heggins said to those who spoke. “You’ve given us a lot to go back and discuss and look at and problem-solve around.”

The city will hold a budget workshop June 13 at City Hall, 217 S. Main St.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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