Salisbury manager’s proposed budget has some fee increases, no tax increase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 20, 2020

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — City Manager Lane Bailey on Tuesday stuck with a budget proposal that included no tax increase, but recommended a fee increase for all Salisbury-Rowan Utilities customers and for stormwater.

After talking about preliminary proposals during previous meetings, Bailey introduced his proposed 2020-2021 budget to the Salisbury City Council during a virtual meeting. The council responded by offering some feedback about information needed by the time a budget workshop is held later and a public hearing is scheduled for June 2.

During his introduction of the budget, Bailey spoke about the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect of revenue.

“With the impact of COVID-19, the challenges are just exacerbated,” he said. “We will not see the financial impacts of this pandemic for several months, but we know that revenue will be impacted. We’ve tried to be conservative in our estimates in preparing the budget. We were already facing challenges of expenditures outpacing our revenues, but this has just made it extremely difficult.”

Bailey recommended the current tax rate to be the same. But he proposed a 1.83% increase for all Salisbury-Rowan Utilities customers, which is about 3.4 cents per day for an average customer. The water and sewer rates had already increased by 1.6% for the current fiscal year.

Bailey said the increase was consistent with the consumer price index of the urban south. Utility rates are in the median of communities of Salisbury’s size, he said.

He also proposed an 8-cent-per-month, per-household increase for the stormwater fee. The current fee is $4 per month.

Those increases are in addition to one the council had previously approved — 94 cents — for recycling as the city started new contract with the same amount of pick up times.

Due to COVID-19 and the economic impact, Bailey said deep cuts were made in departmental budgets, and $1.2 million capital expenditures were pushed back, including the construction of Fire Station No. 3 and some vehicle replacements.

Notably, Bailey said he wants to discontinue the capital improvement plan.

“With the uncertainties we face, I just don’t think we can move forward at this point … when we come out of this, we need to redo the plan,” he said. “I think our priorities will change when were out, not certain how they will change.”

He said one bright spot is funding for the Bell Tower Green project that would not have happened with the help of citizens who brought the park to fruition. The downtown park is expected to open in the fall.

Councilman David Post said he would like to continue to go through the process of the Capital Improvement Plan, but the council does not have to put a timeline on it.

Bailey said they could come back to the plan at the end of the year and hope for a “more optimistic view.”

Bailey told the council his proposed budget does not include employee raises, but it is not a reflection of their work.

“I’m very proud of the work they are doing, but unfortunately we can’t do a pay increase at this time,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he was happy to announce the city received a CARES Act grant for Salisbury Transit of $959,000, which will provide temporary relief for that department. He then proposed a discontinuation of services in Spencer and East Spencer, which would start July 1, the first day of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Bailey said he made the other municipal managers aware. Alexander said she has met with the towns’ mayors as well.

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield asked about the plan for city leaders to meet with the leaders of Spencer and East Spencer to find grant money and minimize the costs. Alexander and Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins said they were not able to meet with them ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Heggins said she would like to figure some kind of partnership and see how many residents in those towns depend on transit services.

Sheffield said she understands the Transit System providing services is not sustainable, as two towns do not pay for the services, but she was not OK with just cutting it off.

Councilman Brian Miller said the council ultimately needed to make a decision, and Bailey’s recommendation was not final.

Bailey said the general fund’s fund balance, which is partially a savings account, is solid and began the year at 33% — well above the required 8% from the state.

The city will be able to utilize some of the fund balance for the upcoming fiscal year to pay for some capital projects that bring in some revenue. He listed Brenner Avenue sidewalks, Grant Creek Greenway, Old Concord Road sidewalks and Newsome Road repaving projects.