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Granite Quarry aldermen take first pass at 2019-2020 budget

GRANITE QUARRY — The Granite Quarry Board of Aldermen has several projects or needs to tackle within a $2.3 million budget.

Among them, consider street repairs, more police officers, better code enforcement, Town Hall renovations, refurbishing firetrucks, improvements to the town square, vehicle purchases and cost-of-living increases for employees.

Now the question becomes what stays and what goes as the town board works toward completing a 2019-20 fiscal year budget by June 30.

Aldermen held their first budget work session with interim Town Manager Larry Smith and department heads Thursday afternoon.

Granite Quarry-Faith Police Authority Chief Mark Cook reiterated his earlier request for two additional full-time officers.

“We need manpower,” Cook said, adding his request is based on providing safety and continuity for a large coverage area that includes about 4,000 residents.

Many times, Cook said, he is left with only one officer covering a shift. “I have nobody to pull from,” he said, if there’s a need to find a replacement. It also presents problems in case that lone officer needs backup.

Granite Quarry and Faith share the expenses of the police authority using a formula based on population. That leaves Granite Quarry with the larger financial obligation.

Smith’s budget outline shows Granite Quarry’s share of two new officers being $48,772 for the coming year; Faith’s portion, $13,043.

Cook has spoken with Faith officials, and he said their budget calls for $145,000 toward the authority in 2019-20, which in turn would lower Granite Quarry’s total commitment and probably prevent the hiring of two officers.

Mayor Bill Feather said Thursday the towns need to have a Police Authority meeting as quickly as possible.

“We just have to discuss it,” Feather said.

Feather and Mayor Pro Tem Jim LaFevers represent the town on the authority. Cook said he will try to arrange the meeting.

Smith told the town board Thursday he will submit his budget message by today or Saturday and formally present it at the June monthly meeting Monday night. At Monday’s meeting, the board also will set a a date for a public hearing on the budget.

As of now, a budget Smith has outlined would cover expenses with $34,683 left over, if the town’s property tax rate remains at 41.75 cents per $100 valuation.

Aldermen would have to cut $57,122 from the proposed budget if they wanted it to be “revenue neutral” at a reduced tax rate of 37.84 cents per $100 valuation.

The law requires town managers to calculate the revenue-neutral tax rate to illustrate what rate would “produce revenue for the next fiscal year equal to revenue that would have been produced for the next fiscal year by the current tax rate, if no reappraisal had occurred.”

Thanks to this year’s property revaluations across Rowan County, Granite Quarry’s 2019 estimated tax base is $241.7 million — an 11.8% increase from the 2018 tax base of $216,108,586.

Based on the current tax rate and a 97% collection rate, projected property tax revenue from the current tax rate would increase from $876,476 this fiscal year to $980,268 next year.

At the new valuation, a penny on the current tax rate would raise $24,170, compared to $21,611 before revaluation.

During Thursday’s work session, the board gave Smith some direction on several things. Aldermen agreed to include $32,217 in the next budget to provide for better code enforcement, leaving it to Smith to determine how that can happen through new staffing and divisions of duties.

By consensus, aldermen also agreed they would rather take off the table $42,000 toward immediate sidewalk and street repairs and put it into a bigger pot of money that will tackle an estimated $350,000 in street improvements.

Feather suggested borrowing the money, which he would be comfortable with knowing that it could be paid back over time with state Powell Bill funds allocated yearly to Granite Quarry.

Alderman Kim Cress sounded a word of caution: “We don’t want to get in over our heads on borrowing money,” he said.

But Feather said he would rather spend that money on streets and delay proposed renovations to Town Hall.

Granite Quarry knows it will be facing other big-ticket expenses in 2019-20 with two reimbursements grants — a $277,800 industrial development grant for Granite Quarry Industrial Park and a $437,793 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for repairs to Granite Lake Park.

The town has to pay for those costs up front but will largely be reimbursed by the state and FEMA. The town’s eventual obligation on the state’s industrial development grant is expected to be $34,725.

The town’s net obligation on the FEMA grant is put at $109,448.

A total renovation of Town Hall carries a price tag of more than $2.27 million. It looks as though that project will be delayed, especially in favor of street repairs, although Alderman John Linker spoke strongly for making some cosmetic improvements to the exterior.

Linker said the outside of the building looks “hideous right now.”

“I think curb appeal is lacking, to say the least,” Linker said.

Cress agreed the building’s lighting, lettering, facade and landscaping need to be improved. Of the landscaping in particular, “it looks like the dead zone out there,” Cress said, adding he thought significant changes could be made without exorbitant cost.

Fire Chief Jason Hord has said $100,000 is needed for the refurbishment of Engines 572 and 573 to keep the older models in running order. Smith has proposed splitting that cost to $50,000 over each of the next two budget years.

Smith also has proposed a 2.2% cost-of-living raise for town employees. No firm decision has been made on spending $40,000 on town square improvements.

Proposed vehicle purchases include a new police car — Granite Quarry’s share would be $32,308 — and a 1-ton truck for the maintenance department at $30,000.

Aldermen will meet again at 7 p.m. Monday.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.



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