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City ponders tax hike for City Hall

Whiteville taxpayers could see a $1.75 property tax increase to help pay for a new City Hall.

City Manager Darren Currie said the proposal to raise the property tax rate to 53 cents per $100 value would be combined with savings in other areas to finance the anticipated $2.5 million to replace the current municipal building.

The Whitley Municipal Building, which started as a Works Progress Administration Post Office in 1938, has been closed due to mold problems since 2015. Offices in the basement had already moved to an office downtown due to mold, moisture and other problems. The city has been working out of leased space in the Roses Shopping Center since the Whitley Building was closed.

After months of research and meeting with an engineering firm, city council decided earlier this year to demolish the old City Hall and rebuild on the same site downtown. Replacement is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, versus the $3-plus million for renovation, expansion and updating the old building. Council members have criticized a proposed design by the Oakley Architecture firm.

Currie said that when the draft is submitted to council June 1, the budget will be balanced, with no increases aside from the City Hall project. “Council is looking forward on this, trying to get ready for when it comes time to actually make payments,” he said.

Currie said that payoffs on two loans next fiscal year will provide an additional $60,000 in savings annually. With $500,000 from two onetime payments of $250,000 each from the general and utility funds, along with the tax increase, the city will have approximately $750,000 in the bank for a cash payment on the project. All revenues from the loan payoffs, tax increase and one-time payments will be set aside for use on the City Hall project, Currie explained.

“That will make a big difference,” he said. “If the project comes in under the anticipated cost, that’s the time we look at some value engineering, to save a few more dollars. It’s conceivable we’d be looking at financing maybe $1.5 million, and having such a large cash payment on hand will get us a better interest rate, and lower payments.”

The money saved from leasing the interim facility will also be funneled directly into the building project payments, Currie said.

“From the day we move into the new building,” he said, “we no longer have a lease payment. That money will go to pay the loan as well.”

Currie praised the council for “looking forward” on this project.

“Putting the money in the bank during this fiscal year for a project that’s a couple years off is a very proactive move,” he said.

“The council is thinking of the future. Without having those funds available to help with the initial costs, we could be looking at a five cents increase when the project actually begins. This is going to put the city in a much better position, and keep the budget balanced just as it is now.”

Currie said the design, architecture and engineering firm has some additional research to do before setting a proposed start date. “I think we’ll have something more firm by the middle of June,” he said.

Stuart Rogers