City council passes budget with some increased fees to account for inflation

Published 12:05 am Thursday, June 23, 2022

SALISBURY — City council on Tuesday night approved a 2022-23 fiscal year budget that maintains the current property tax rate but increases several other fees to account for the rising cost of materials needed to maintain critical infrastructure and provide municipal services.

The $50,631,540 balanced general fund budget reflects a 6.6% increase in spending from the current budget. In addition to the general fund, the water and sewer, transit, broadband and stormwater funds comprise the overall city budget totaling $93,381,414.

The property tax rate will remain at 71.96 cents per $100 valuation.

“I appreciate all that staff has done over the past several months in working on what I think is a very good budget, helping make progress on council’s priority,” City Manager Jim Greene Jr. said. “(It’s) a very tight budget. Obviously, there are more needs than funds that we have. So, I really credit staff for stretching those dollars and providing efficient services.”

Council also commended staff on assembling the budget, especially Finance Director Wade Furches.

The current budget will conclude with over $2 million in surplus which will be returned to fund balance. Appropriating $2 million of fund balance in the upcoming fiscal year will help the city to meet some of the staffing challenges it faces, and to complete several major, one-time capital projects, including sidewalk improvements.

The budget includes a 4.2% increase in water and sewer rates. That would mean a $2.49 per month increase for the average Salisbury-Rowan Utilities customer who uses 4,000 gallons per month. The additional funding generated by the increase will help soften the blow of a 88% increase in water treatment chemical costs and 16% increase in electrical costs.

There will also be a 25-cent increase to stormwater fees to offset inflation and to remain in accordance with the city’s 15-year stormwater capital improvement plan. The stormwater fee increase also would provide funds for stormwater projects to reduce flooding and pollution to maintain compliance.

Most of the details had been hashed out before the budget was officially approved Tuesday night, but council did decide during the meeting to raise the municipal vehicle tax from $10 to $30, the maximum allowed by the state.

The fee increase will generate an additional $240,000 for the Public Works Department. The vast majority of that funding will help the department keep pace with its current road resurfacing plan as the cost of materials have skyrocketed. The prices for asphalt material have risen 40% since last year, Public Works Director Craig Powers told council. Labor costs have also increased.

In the past, the city has budgeted around $500,000 that, when combined with state funding, has paid for the resurfacing of around seven lane miles per year. A lane mile, which is the unit of measurement used by the Public Works Department, is the equivalent of paving six city blocks that are two lanes wide.

The city has 346 lane miles. At current prices, the additional money generated by the increased municipal vehicle tax will help the city repave 8.99 lane miles, or 2.75 extra lane miles than without the increase. Without the increase, the city would only be able to repave 6.24 lane miles. And that’s if inflation does not continue at its current rate.

“What does it cost to align your car?” Mayor Karen Alexander asked rhetorically. “Because potholes are everywhere. It costs a lot more than $30. I’d rather pay $30 and get more streets patched and filled than to keep having to realign my car, or bust out a tire.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield said approving a budget with increased fees was not easy.

“Everybody knows I always have a hard time when it comes to the budget,” she said. “I struggle with the fees, the nickeling-and-diming of the water, the sewer, whatever it is. It seems like every year it’s something.”

However, Sheffield also said “I get the bigger picture of why we have to do that” and added that the fees are necessary for the city to “go the distance for our citizens.”

The approved budget bolsters the parks and recreation department by providing funding for two new full-time recreation programmers and an increase in funding at recreation centers. Programs will include restart of full-day summer camp and an after school program as well as the continuation of current athletic and mentoring programs. The budget designated $156,700 for events at Bell Tower Green, the city’s newest park.

The proposed budget uses about $4 million of the remaining $5.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for a number of projects. Parks and recreation will receive $1.2 million for infrastructure needs, $1 million will go toward a civic center replacement or improvement, $200,000 for a neighborhood revitalization program to support existing housing program, $650,000 for construction level design for Main Street to position the city to apply for federal grant funding and $243,198 for architectural fees to create construction documents for Fire Station No. 3.

Salisbury will continue to invest in Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. In the coming budget year, there is $355,000 for the replacement of a generator at Town Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, $500,000 for water main capacity upgrades and $500,000 for a Town Creek access road reroute, among other capital expenditures. SRU serves about 52,000 customers in Salisbury and other towns and areas of Rowan County

A total of $249,716 is budgeted for the city’s new diversity, equity and inclusion department and $45,000 for city-wide training. Part of that funding will allow for a new position to help assist the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion director.

The full budget is available online at salisburync.gov.

In other meeting business:

• Council approved applying for a $75,000 Rural Building Reuse Grant from the state that, if awarded, will be disbursed to the company behind what is being called “Project Strong.” The company is an existing Rowan County business planning an expansion that would create 14 “well-paying” jobs over the next three years. The company expects to invest approximately $2.9 million in new construction and equipment to renovate a currently vacant building. The City of Salisbury would collect an estimated $176,942 in new property tax revenue from the expansion over a 10-year period, according to a Rowan EDC model.

• Council approved the voluntary annexation and rezoning of 43 acres on Peach Orchard Road. The annexation and rezoning request came from the Sansone Group, a St. Louis-based real estate and development firm. The firm plans on constructing a 300,000-square-foot industrial facility on the property, which comprises three parcels owned by the same family.

• Council authorized the demolition of three structures: 318 Vanderford St., 425 Messner St., 625 Forney St. The structures have been deemed vacant, abandoned and dilapidated and carry some public safety risk.

• Council approved renewing a contract with Strategics Consulting for federal lobbying services. Strategics also provides federal lobbying services to Rowan County. The approved contract will last for two years at $60,000 per year. The renewal is at a higher rate than the $48,000 per year the city currently pays Strategics.

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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