Rockwell proposed budget includes nine-cent property tax increase

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 6, 2024

ROCKWELL — Rockwell’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes a nine-cent property tax increase, a decision that the aldermen had attempted to avoid through weeks of budget discussions. The increase was the only point of discussion during the final budget workshop for the Rockwell Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.

“If taxes had been raised in prior years like they should have been, we wouldn’t be in this predicament today. But right now, we have more employees than we’ve ever had before. Our wages are higher, especially with police and fire, due to the competition for manpower with other communities. Our insurance and utilities have increased,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chris Cranford.

The tax increase helps the town maintain a larger contingency budget, something that the aldermen agreed was necessary for the upcoming year. According to the budget proposal, the contingency fund will be set at $56,426 if it is approved. The contingency fund was set at $40,815 for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

“To me, right now, it’s going to take at least a nine-cent increase. If we reduce that to eight cents or seven cents, we have to reduce our contingency. If we reduce it to seven, our contingency would be $6,662. One bill would wipe that out,” said Cranford.

One cent on the property tax rate equals approximately $24,000 in revenue for the town.

Part of the discussion on Tuesday included how the aldermen could effectively communicate the reasons for the tax increase to the people of Rockwell.

“The biggest message, I think, that we have to communicate to our residents is that help is on the way. Responsible growth in the area, there are additional residents coming which hopefully will allow us to lower the tax rate,” said Alderman Dillon Brewer.

Alderman Bill Earnhardt said that the board members should work to show the residents how the police and fire departments utilize the funding, whether it was for staffing, equipment or training.

“Some of these things are hard for the general population to see. They can’t see that we’re paying (Police Chief) Cody (Trexler) x amount of dollars to do this job. They just know that we have a police force and we want that police force to be effective,” said Earnhardt.

The fire department would see a total increase of $37,312 and the police department would see an increase of $78,310 if the budget is improved. 

“Something else they may not know is the number of calls that they go on, plus the fire department. We’ve seen those reports each month and they keep increasing,” said Cranford.

Much of two departments’ increases come from the 4.75-percent cost of living increase in full-time salaries for all town employees, but most of the departments’ positions are also seeing an increase above the cost-of-living increase to keep the salaries competitive with other municipalities.

“We’ve given the highest cost-of-living increase we’ve given in a while across the board, and it’s not enough. Compared to what they’re paying at the grocery store or at the gas pump and everything else, that’s not enough. Nobody else is getting enough either. That’s another thing that raised it a little, is we wanted to put that figure higher than we have in the past,” said Alderman Stephanie Walker.

Several other large-scale expense increases are in the budget, including a town parking lot and upgrades to the legion building in the public works department budget, which make up the majority of the total $241,678 increase. The town also has a $295,000 property purchase listed under administrative expenses.

The budget has a $295,000 appropriation from the town’s fund balance and a $175,150 appropriation from its money market accounts, which Cranford said would pay for the parking lot, architect fees and property purchase. That means that none of the town’s current-year tax revenue would go towards paying for those projects.

Although the aldermen were not required to make a motion or vote, Mayor Chuck Bowman asked all of the aldermen to state what they believed the tax rate should be. Each alderman chose a nine-cent tax increase.

“The minimum has to be nine percent in my own eyes. Yeah, that’s going to cost me more, but I’m a firm believer that if there’s a hiccup, we’ve got to be able to take care of it without going, ‘uh-oh, now we’ve got to cut something else.’ We’ve just got to protect the community,” said Alderman Jay Stake.

The budget is not yet finalized, as the town has set a public hearing during its regularly scheduled monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 10 in Rockwell Town Hall, located at 202 E. Main St. The vote can then be held to approve the budget anytime after the hearing and before July 1.