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Sizeable tax increase on table, but Granite Quarry board will keep ‘diggin’

GRANITE QUARRY — If ever there was a collective deep breath taken by town officials, it came Monday afternoon from the Granite Quarry Board of Aldermen.

That’s when Town Manager Phil Conrad said he would have to recommend a property tax increase of 5.4 cents per $100 valuation to meet the 2018-19 proposed budget.

It didn’t digest well.

“That would be history in this town,” Alderman Kim Cress said of that kind of tax increase.

Alderman John Linker said an increase of 5.4 cents on the rate “sounds like a lot to me” and that he couldn’t go for it.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim LaFevers came to this conclusion: “There’s something wrong with the numbers.”

And Alderman Jim Costantino put it this way: “We have more diggin’ to do.”

In the end, the board decided it will tackle the budget again next Wednesday and look at the numbers even more closely than it has for the past several weeks. Aldermen agreed to recess Monday’s budget session until 3 p.m. June 20.

A public hearing and final approval of a 2018-19 budget also is set for 5 p.m. June 26 at Town Hall.

Granite Quarry’s current tax rate is 41.75 cents per $100 valuation. The suggested increase would put it above 47 cents, in round numbers.

For the owner of property valued at $150,000, taxes in Granite Quarry would increase from $626.25 to $705. Municipal taxes on a $250,000 property would increase from $1,043.75 to $1,175.

But again, the board is far from approving that big of an increase.

One of the main impacts on the budget is a proposal to raise part-time salaries in the Fire Department by $113,100.

Fire Chief Dale Brown has detailed for the board the challenges he faces in adequately staffing the fire station and having enough firefighters to answer calls and supplement the town’s three full-time firefighters.

Salaries for the three full-time positions add up to $103,292.

Conrad has presented a budget, which must be approved by July 1, that projects consolidated revenues of $2,154,779 and consolidated expenses of $2,344,317.

That would leave a deficit of $189,538.

Asked by Mayor Bill Feather what his recommendation for addressing the shortfall would be, Conrad said the board could take $75,000 from the town’s fund balance and use a 5.4-cent tax increase to cover the rest, or essentially address the Fire Department salaries.

A penny on the tax rate raises $20,948.72.

A good chunk of the $75,000 from the fund balance would cover a $50,000 repayment the town will have to make to the Carolina Thread Trail. The town received a $50,000 grant toward new sidewalks from the organization, but that project was shelved.

In general, the proposed budget calls for 2.13 percent merit salary increases for town employees.

Finance officer Shelly Shockley, who is a new full-time employee since last year, said she isn’t pointing fingers but projected revenues for the current fiscal year were overinflated, and she also found line items for some revenues repeated twice in the budget.

That’s a big reason why revenue projections for operations were lower by more than $500,000, compared to 2017-18.

Feather pointed to some factors that might have an impact on the aldermen’s budget decisions. The town (and county) are heading into the last fiscal year before a property revaluation is done in 2019.

Revaluations usually have a positive effect on a town’s tax rate and often lead to reductions.

The town also could see a better property tax revenue stream in the coming years from projects in the new industrial park, a new subdivision off Faith Road, a new State Employee’s Credit Union and efforts to improve properties downtown, Feather said.

Linker agreed the pending revaluation and the sunset of $46,940-a-year payments on the town’s firetruck could factor into deciding what the final tax rate is.

“Those things should play into our decisions,” Linker said.

“We have between now (and the 26th) to make some changes,” Feather said.

Here is a quick breakdown of the operational side of Granite Quarry and what each department is projected to spend in 2018-19:

• Board expense, $27,988.62.

• Administration, $500,150.

• Police Department, $648,816.

• Fire Department, $495,793.

• Maintenance: $219,515.

• Parks, $39,000.

• Environmental, $178,000.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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