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Spencer aldermen to discuss 2019-20 budget

SPENCER — Looking ahead at a possible 3.5-cent property tax decrease, the Spencer Board of Aldermen will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a budget workshop.

The decrease would bring the property tax rate to 62 cents per $100 in valuation compared to last year’s 65.5 cents. The proposed rate is also just above a revenue-neutral rate of 61.9 cents.

The revenue-neutral rate was factored using an anticipated 2.5% increase in property valuations through the countywide revaluation this year.

Budget officer John Sofley prepared the proposed 2019-20 budget at a cost of $75 an hour. The board hired him after the loss of former Town Manager Terence Arrington.

In his budget message, Sofley said the financial plan had been crafted to provide funding for the top three goals identified during the aldermen’s late February retreat: downtown revitalization, employee retention and community outreach.

A focal point of downtown revitalization is the Park Plaza project, with completion of a newly renovated municipal complex at the site estimated for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Sofley said no debt service is expected for the effort due to U.S. Department of Agriculture financing slated for December, but the budget included one half of the first year’s debt service in case financing isn’t approved before January 2020.

The budget also included a 2% cost-of-living salary increase to assist with employee retention, with $45,400 in adjustments for the town’s police, fire, land management, street and solid waste departments and $5,000 for community outreach.

Half of the money for community outreach was allocated for fireworks at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, with the balance yet unallocated.

Other highlights from the budget include:

• Insurance adjustments: Sofley projected a 10% increase in health, vision, dental and life insurance, though his message strongly encouraged aldermen to consider investigating a different broker for insurance coverage before its fall renewal.

“The town has used the same local broker for many  years for all of its insurance needs,” he said. “In reviewing the current health insurance policy, the current cost structure is not sustainable.”

He added that the town is incurring significantly more costs without them being shared by employees and that the policy is “out of date with the current marketplace.” He recommended that the town pursue policies through the League of Municipalities.

• Capital purchases: Sofley’s budget proposed the purchase of six vehicles, a new mower and two vehicle cameras. All but one of the vehicles would replace existing ones.

Three of these would be for the Police Department: two for patrolmen and one for an investigator for a combined total of $114,900. Other proposals include a $36,458 half-ton truck for the Fire Department, a $71,450 new dump truck to be fitted with a snow plow for the Street Department and a $29,458 half-ton truck for the Land Management Department.

• Staffing changes: The 2019-20 budget proposes no new staff but will convert one full-time public nuisance officer into a part-time position.

The proposed 2% cost-of-living increase totals $25,699 across all departments, though a concern for employee retention focuses heavily on the Police Department. According to Sofley’s message, the department has had 50% turnover in the past two years with seven officers leaving. Many, said Sofley, are going to other agencies in the county

Therefore, a 5% overall adjustment for a total of $31,689 has been allocated for the department in addition to the  2% cost-of-living adjustment.

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