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City adopts 2020-21 budget that postpones some capital projects due to COVID-19 impact

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Following the hours-long discussion of relocating the “Fame” confederate statue, city council members on Tuesday also approved the 2020-21 budget, which doesn’t include a tax increase but delays some larger capital projects due to the overall COVID-19 impact.

The budget includes a $45.64 million general fund, which reflects a 4.08% decrease in spending compared to the previous budget scheduled to end June 30. The decrease in spending is a result of shortages in sales tax revenue due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget doesn’t raise taxes and will maintain the current rate of 71.96 cents per $100.

“This has proven to be one of the most challenging budgets to prepare and with the impact of COVID-19, the challenge was certainly exacerbated,” said city manager Lane Bailey. “Now that the budget has been approved by City Council, city staff will continue to ensure that we are good stewards of resident tax dollars over the next fiscal year.”

In addition to the general fund, the water/sewer fund, transit fund, broadband fund, and stormwater fund comprise the overall city budget, which totals $82.14 million. This total also includes special revenue and capital reserves.

As a result of cuts made to departmental budgets, approximately $1.25 million in one-time capital projects will be deferred for the coming year, which starts July 1. Additionally, construction at the Fire Station No. 3 in Salisbury will be delayed.

Bailey says he does not anticipate cuts to services for Salisbury residents. Members talked at length on June 1 and June 2 about alternative options to continue transit services to Spencer and East Spencer. Ultimately, Bailey instead proposed reducing the existing general fund transfer for transit services by using money from the federal CARES Act.

Some of the large projects, which don’t have offsetting revenue, that will be delayed include $1.58 million for bike lines and sidewalks along Newsome Road; $125,000 for sidewalks and intersection improvements at Brenner Avenue; $250,000 for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program; $275,655 for the Hall Gym roof replacement and $250,000 for improvements to the Grants Creek Greenway.

Other projects delayed include staffing at the new Bell Tower Green Park, $215,000 for the E. Fisher Street and N. Ellis Street bridges and $199,192 for the Plaza roof replacement.

Additionally, the budget includes a 1.83% water and sewer increases, which amounts to an increase of $1.02 each month.

Other budget fee changes include a 94-cent increase in residential curbside collection sites with one waste container and one recycling container, and an 8-cent increase to stormwater fees to offset inflation. The stormwater fee increase also provides funds for stormwater projects to reduce flooding and pollution.

The budget doesn’t include a cost of living adjustment or merit pay raises for city employees.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bailey noted the city’s budget includes nine fewer positions because some vacant positions have been eliminated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result of fewer dollars going into the retirement system.

“I struggle with the ‘googling’ of Salisbury’s tax rate of (71.96 cents per $100), which might sound low, but yet we’re fee-heavy,” said council member Tamara Sheffield at the Tuesday meeting. “I struggle with knowing that because it’s a tough year … we won’t be doing merit increases as well.”

Sheffield added that, nonetheless, she knows balancing the budget was difficult this year.

Two items on the agenda were postponed for discussion until July 21. The proposals, to be presented by Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, include a consideration to ban the use of chemical weapons, such as tear gas, by Salisbury Police officers. The other is a proposal to paint “Black Lives Matter” in downtown Salisbury. This has been done in Washington, D.C. and other major cities.

Other items at the meeting:

  • Council members adopted a capital project ordinance amendment in the amount of $26.85 million for the Grant Creek Wastewater Treatment Train improvements. The project was approved during the March 3 City Council meeting.
  • Council members adopted a capital project ordinance in the amount of $7.22 million for Water Treatment Plant improvements, which was also approved at the March 3 meeting.
  • Council members awarded a contract to Country Boy Landscaping, Inc., in the amount of $296,886 for the Sunset Drive Central Culvert Replacement Project. The funds for that project were approved in the FY 2019-20 budget.
  • Council members approved the draft 2020-24 consolidated plan and 2020-21 action plan for the use of community development block grant and HOME program funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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