City hall dominates proposed budget
Whiteville’s proposed city budget includes a 1.75 cents tax increase that, combined with current funding, provides a revenue source for the new city hall.
A public hearing Tuesday will provide residents an opportunity to discuss the proposal. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the interim city hall at 24 Hill Plaza.
The dominant feature for the Fiscal 2017-18 budget is the estimated $3million municipal building.
City Manager Darren Currie pointed out that while the budget is balanced without a tax increase, the hike will provide around $80,000 annually toward the project. The increase computes to around $18 per $100,000 in property value. By paying off two additional small loans, Currie said, an additional $22,000 per year will be saved. The city expects a one-time payout of $80,000 from hurricane relief funds that can also be used.
When the city actually makes the move to fund the project, Currie said, he is recommending the city council make budgeted contributions of $250,000 each from the Utility Fund and General Fund Balance.
“If this is adopted,” he explained in his budget message, “the city will have approximately $600,000 in the project fund. We reduce the city’s debt, thereby lowering the payment. By lowering the payment, (and the eventual savings of rental payments for the interim city hall) …there will be little funding to add from the general and enterprise funds for an annual payment.”
The finance program should leave the city with a payment of under $200,000 per year.
For the second year of the building fund, Currie said, the city would deposit the loan payment money saved from FY 17-18 and the tax increase revenues directly in the capital project fund. This could potentially increase the overall reserve to more than $750,000.
“This amount of funding, paid up front, will save taxpayers over the life of a 15-year loan,” Currie said.
The proposed budget is balanced without a tax or fee increase, except for the building project fund, Currie said. Water and sewer revenues are proposed to remain steady, but when the city’s Asset Management Plan for Utilities is completed, Currie said, the city will have a better idea of the costs for future improvements and maintenance. Currently the city only qualifies for low interest loans, rather than grants, in part because the city’s wastewater fees are higher and water rates lower than is considered standard.
The city’s tax collection rate has remained steady at 98.27 percent, Currie said.
In human resources, Currie’s budget proposal calls for the addition of one finance position, an accounting technician, and changing the City Planner position to Planning Director, and including economic development duties in that position. The police department has also requested changing one sergeant’s position to major, and adding $13,000 to the salary. Reinstating the major’s position will help maintain continuity in the department when the chief is unavailable, Currie explained.
The fire department and city administration are also proposing to allow city employees to act as paid volunteers with the fire department during business hours and after work. Similar programs are becoming more common – Currie helped engineer Lake Waccamaw’s municipal firefighter program – and the idea has been well-received by city employees, Currie said. Additional funding of $25,000 would provide $2,500 per year for 10 city employees, Currie explained, and employees would be required to maintain their firefighter certifications. Failure to abide by the agreement with the city and fire department would result in dismissal from the fire service.
“This program will have to be monitored very closely to ensure compliance,” Currie said, “however, it is a way to ensure adequate manpower at a structure fire as well as help control staffing costs.”
The budget proposal also includes a 2.5 cost of living allowance for all employees.
The Powell bill transportation funding for the city for the proposed FY 17-18 budget is $391,000, with most of that funding going to address grade issues at the fire station on Columbus Street. The proposed budget also includes an additional $30,000 to the usual $30,000 in Powell Bill funding for sidewalk repairs.
The budget proposal also calls for no change to disbursements to local organizations such as the Whiteville Downtown Development Commission, Chamber of Commerce and others.
State law requires that the city approve the new budget or pass a continuing resolution by June 30. Council is expected to vote on the budget Tuesday night following the public hearing.
A full copy of the city budget may be reviewed at the city offices or online at www.whitevillenc.gov.
Story by: Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter, email@example.com