Spencer closes in on budget with 5.5-cent tax increase

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 8, 2024

(Update: This story has been updated to include expenditure details from the Spencer Public Works Department.)

SPENCER — When the Spencer Board of Aldermen gathers on Tuesday for its regularly scheduled monthly meeting, it will consider approval of a budget ordinance that carries with it a 5.5-cent property tax increase.

Residents of Spencer currently pay 55 cents per $100 property valuation. The new rate would be 60.5 cents per $100 property valuation.

The budgetary increase is predominantly intended to fund multiple new positions at the Spencer Fire Department.

The implication for each cent levied is about $37,000, so the 5.5-cent uptick will increase the revenue by roughly $203,000.

Last month, initial recommendations for the town’s budget pegged property tax rate of 62 cents per $100 valuation. However, efforts by city officials to trim from that total resulted in the 1.5 cent reduction.

Where were cuts made?

Spencer officials opted to remove a $20,000 school safety grant from the books for the upcoming fiscal year. Additionally, $2,000 was removed from the $5,000 budget for the Jefferson Street Park project. The Community Appearance Commission and Historic Preservation Grant programs’ budgets were cut by 25 percent each to $7,500, resulting in $5,000 saved.

The town was also able to use some remaining funds from the previous fiscal year to address needs at the fire department.

Another change town officials agreed on during deliberations was to reduce funding for the position of a future parks and recreation coordinator from six months to three months. The position is being created to put a full-time employee into a role where they are organizing and coordinating community events using Spencer’s various parks and public spaces.

Williams indicated that expanding those offerings is a vision of his administration as it aims to enhance the quality of life and opportunities for social engagement within the town.

The greatest increase currently facing the town is the need for more firefighters. Williams said that due to Spencer’s expected growth, expanded fire service will be necessary to maintain the town’s current ISO rating.

“Making a huge change to our fire service is the elephant in the room,” Williams said during a May workshop. “If we don’t do it, we risk losing our ISO 2 rating. It puts residents in danger. It puts our staff in danger. That is what this increase is. There are other little nuances, but that is the big piece.

“Thank goodness that this board is behind because it has got to happen. We as a community have got to do it.”

During the meeting on Thursday, Williams doubled down on that sentiment.

“Anyone against this increase would not be against the fire department showing up to put out a fire at their house,” Williams said.

Particularly pertinent to a couple of aldermen was a structure fire on Charles Street in May that destroyed the home.

“I watched a house across the street from me burn last week,” Alderman Patricia Sledge said in May. “To watch those guys work. If I could give them a million dollars, I would give them a million dollars. It’s horrible to watch that and not be able to do anything.”

Alderman Steve Miller observed the fire and shared Sledge’s sentiment.

How does Spencer compare to other towns in Rowan County?

China Grove’s current budget includes a six-cent tax increase. Rockwell’s budget will likely have a nine-cent increase. At present, Landis and Granite Quarry do not have increases coming down the pipe.

In nearby East Spencer, residents are looking at a 20-cent tax increase, which, like Spencer, will be used largely to fund fire department services as the town looks to transition from a volunteer to a paid model.

So what will a 5.5-cent increase cost?

The average assessed value of homes in Spencer is $187,392, but for purposes of round math, a $200,000 home will be used.

On a $200,000 home, the new rate will cost $1,210 per year in property taxes. Previously, that same house would have paid $$1,100 per year in property taxes. The difference is $110.

Spencer expects revenue to be $5,339,277, with $2,309,714 coming from property taxes.

In a breakdown of expenses, the Spencer Police Department receives the largest portion of the budget at $1,825,251. The public works department accounts for $965,228. It also utilizes more than $130,000 in funding from the Powell Bill. Fire department costs are pegged at $940,524. Administration expenditure are $912,988.

The board of aldermen will meet at Spencer Town Hall on Tuesday at 6 p.m. to formally vote on the budget.