Rockwell formally approves budget for upcoming year, including nine-cent tax raise

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, June 12, 2024

ROCKWELL — The Rockwell Board of Aldermen voted on Monday to formally approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year with little change, including approving the proposed nine-cent tax property tax rate increase.

The aldermen held a public hearing for the budget during their monthly meeting. There was a decent turnout at the meeting for other matters on the agenda, and although no residents spoke in favor of or against the budget, the aldermen took the opportunity to speak to the community about the reasoning behind the change to the tax rate.

“Since (Alderman) Stephanie (Walker) and I are on the finance committee, we have spent some time discussing this budget, a lot of heartaches and a lot of sleepless nights. It’s not easy, no one wants to raise taxes, we don’t want to raise taxes because we pay taxes, also,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chris Cranford.

Every cent on the tax rate equals $24,000 in projected revenue for the town, so the increased rate means that the town expects to bring in an extra $216,000. The main reason for the nine-cent raise, Cranford said, is for the town to be able to create an approximately $56,000 contingency fund that will be available in case the town runs into any unforeseen costs.

Salaries for the town’s various departments make up 52 percent of the budget, and Cranford said that staying competitive in attracting a shrinking workforce for the fire and police departments was a driving force behind the increase as well.

“There’s only a certain amount of people that want to get involved with fire and police. Everybody is fighting for the same group of people. Every time somebody else, like Granite or Faith or Spencer go to raising their salaries. Even Concord raised their salaries by 20 percent. We can’t compete with Concord, but we can with our local communities,” said Cranford.

While the fire and police departments were a large part of the tax increase, Walker said that the members of the board were still forced to deny the departments funding for extra positions. The fire department had asked for funding for two new full-time firefighters and the police department had asked for funding for a detective, both of which the aldermen denied.

“You can’t find volunteers for the fire department like you used to, because everybody used to work in town and they’d go to the fires. That’s not the case anymore. They wanted two more firefighters, but we couldn’t do it,” said Mayor Chuck Bowman.

Alderman Dillon Brewer and Cranford noted that the town’s insurance bills, power bills and other monthly expenses have increased just as most residents’ bills have increased.

“I think one of the best examples is our utility bill for the power used to be $1,200 every month, to pay the light bill for the town. It’s now $3,000-plus a month. So when you look at the one-cent increase and it only creates $24,000 in revenue, that one-cent increase is spent just on the power increase,” said Brewer.

The only amendment to the proposed budget was an additional $70,000 that Cranford requested be removed from the available fund balance to fund additional renovations to the American Legion building. That brings the total fund balance, which is cash that the town has on hand, appropriation to $365,000 in addition to an appropriation from the town’s money market accounts of $175,150 for architect services and town parking lot renovations.

“What has happened in the past is we’ve tried to get grant money but we’ve had too much money on hand. So we’re trying to do some things we’ve let go over the years and take it from cash. It does not affect the budget so far as raising the rates,” said Cranford.

After the aldermen presented the budget, they voted unanimously to approve it with the additional $70,000 amendment.