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Salisbury City Council approves 2018-19 budget

SALISBURY — After a nearly six-hour budget work session last Wednesday, the Salisbury City Council on Tuesday approved a fine-tuned version of the 2018-19 budget.

Concern arose during the work session and council meeting about a proposed increase in stormwater fees for commercial and industrial customers.

For these users, rates could increase anywhere from 135.33 percent (in the case of churches) to 964 percent (for large industrial distribution centers).

Meanwhile, fees for residents would decrease $1, falling to just $4 per month.

The proposed 2.15 percent increase in water and sewer rates, a $1.45 monthly increase for the average customer, would leave the city with a net positive of 45 cents.

Council members were presented four budget versions to chose from during Tuesday’s meeting: the original proposal, a proposal that would lower residential stormwater rates to $3.75, and proposals with $3.75 and $4 rates that capped commercial fees at $2,500 per month.

The council opted for the $4, capped-rate version, though the vote was split. Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield preferred the capped version that lowered rates to $3.75 per month for residential users.

“In general, I am not a fan of us raising our water rate, especially the stormwater rate,” Sheffield said before voting to adopt the selected budget. “I also understand the need to balance a budget.”

Sheffield said her concern with the increased rate is that it was meant to finance a particular project. Once the project is completed, would the rate decrease? She said she thinks it wouldn’t.

“There’s always a new project,” she said. “It’s like a toll road. Once you get it, you got it.”

The adopted budget decreased projected stormwater fund revenues by $27,060, decreasing the “special projects” line item by the same amount.

Shannon Moore, the city’s finance director, said the project that could have been funded by higher stormwater revenues is the rehabilitation of McCoy Road.

The project is just in the design phase, she said, and won’t be ready to be put out to bid until late winter or early spring.

The city may be able to finance the project over two fiscal years if construction were to begin in the fourth quarter, she said.

But Sheffield’s concerns were less about funding projects and more about keeping the city business-friendly, which she said after Mayor Pro Tem David Post said he didn’t see a need to cap the fee.

Only two current businesses would be large enough to exceed the cap.

“I don’t consider this us doing a favor for two businesses or 50 businesses. I think it’s the fact the perception is we are raising this 900-and-some percent,” Sheffield said. “… We need to be as attractive as we can with all the things that are heading our way. … As long as we look unattractive, we are not going to get a Google.”

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:

• Council members approved a Main Street program contract with Downtown Salisbury Inc.

• The council heard a report on Fair Housing Testing from Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Legal Aid performed 10 matched-pair tests on rental developments in the city of 50 to 300 units. Six of them tested for racial discrimination and four tested for national-origin discrimination.

Three out of six tests for racial discrimination found a difference in treatment between potential white renters and potential African-American renters, each favoring whites.

The three other tests were inconclusive.

In the national-origin tests, two tests showed difference in treatment between white renters and Latino renters, again favoring whites.

One test showed no difference, and another was inconclusive.

The council elected to present the findings to the Housing Advocacy Commission for recommendations on further action.

• The council rezoned a tract along Earnhardt Road to allow for expansion of Drummond Village, annexing 29.574 acres of the same property.

• The council appointed John Post to the Parks and Recreation Board.

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