Surprise! East Spencer’s proposed annual budget less than last year’s

Published 12:03 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

EAST SPENCER — The town manager gave members of the East Spencer Board of Aldermen a pleasant surprise Monday night when he informed them that the proposed annual budget for the town will be about $400,000 less than last year’s.

Last year, the town took about $350,000 out of the general fund to pay off a fire truck, but that line item is not in this year’s budget, so the proposal will drop to $9.4 million.

The board technically has until June 30 to pass the budget, as it would take effect July 1, but Michael Douglas, town manager, has asked the board to review the detailed proposal and schedule a public hearing in the next month in order to get it passed.

“One item we still are not sure about is the increase in Salisbury-Rowan Utilities,” Douglas said. “I’ve reached out to them and the city manager has not yet gotten a rate increase before the council.” Douglas said. While the town waits for the actual numbers, Douglas said he averaged increases from the last two years then put in an estimated increase of six percent.

In addition to a lower budget, Douglas was able to offer more good news: the town’s tax revenue is increasing and is already well ahead of the anticipated $360,000. Douglas said an additional $120,000 has already come in to the town’s general fund and if the numbers continue, the town will see an estimated increase in total of almost $230,000 over last year.

Douglas said the town will need to discuss how to allocate the additional funds, but noted the town does have equipment in several departments that need replacement or update, including a new vehicle for public works and new computers for the town.

The audit the town is required to submit each year has been delayed this year, and Douglas has a line item in next year’s budget of $2,000 to cover a quarterly audit, so the annual audit will not be delayed again.

Several board members noted they would like to continue to see growth in the public safety departments for the town, and to continue to “spruce the town up,” and Mayor Barbara Mallett pointed out that hiring police and fire personnel is “a matter of getting the bodies. We are advertising everywhere, and we have increased salaries, so right now it’s just a matter of getting the people.”

Not everyone on the board is overly excited about the recent growth in the town. Board member Curtis Cowan said he has received complaints from a number of residents concerned about the changes.

“I’ve been getting a lot of push back against growth,” he said. “We need to make sure it’s controlled, because we are upsetting a lot of citizens with all the building. People like a small town, and in my opinion, it’s just too much growth.” Part of the concerns stem from the recent revaluation of property by Rowan County, which is driving property taxes up, but Cowan pointed out that construction of new homes is going to increase the value of surrounding homes as well.

“I have had to explain to a lot of people that a town isn’t sustainable without growth,” said Mayor Pro Tem Shawn Bush. “Without growth, the existing residents have to shoulder increase in costs by paying higher taxes, so at least our portion of their taxes is not going up.”