Proposed Whiteville budget holds tax rate at 53 cents but water fees will see increase
By Allen Turner, The News Reporter
Whiteville’s property tax rate would remain at 53 cents per $100 of property valuation under a budget submitted June 1 by City Manager Darren Currie for consideration by the city council but water rates would see a small increase.
Council will formally hold a legally-required public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, before deciding whether to adopt the budget as recommended by Currie. They have previously held several budget workshops on the document and are not expected to make major changes to Currie’s proposal.
By state law, council must adopt a balanced budget before June 30 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Currie’s budget proposal is for general fund revenues of $4.95 million, down from the current year’s $6.446 million, $2.069 million for the sewer fund, slightly below the current $2.094 million, $751,000 in water fund revenues, down from $799,000 and $1.247 million in sanitation revenues, an increase over the current $1.232 million. The budget also contains a new $150,000 storm water fund.
Included in the budget is the first of ten annual payments of $288,000 on the new city hall.
For the first time in the upcoming year’s budget, the sanitation fund is being recognized as a true “enterprise” fund, or self-supporting fund. Currie recommends that council move sanitation from the general fund to an enterprise fund since user fees support 100 percent of its costs. Keeping it within the general fund would “arbitrarily” inflate the general fund, Currie tells council in a budget message, and the general fund should be more for support of non-fee-based services like fire, police and administration.
In another first involving enterprise funds, Currie’s proposed budget separates the water fund from the utility fund. “Until this year,” Currie writes, “water and sewer has always been treated as one utility. In reality, it is two very different utilities.” Currie says that separating the two into different funds will provide more transparency and more clearly show what is spent on either enterprise.
Staff recommends that inside city water rates increase from a flat rate of $5.75 a month to $6 and that the rate per thousand gallons of water usage increase from $1.50 to $2 inside the city limits. Outside city rates are proposed to increase from $11.50 to $12 for the base rate and the usage rate togo up outside the city from $3 to $4. Based on the average city resident using 4,000 gallons per month, the average monthly water bill for inside the city customers will increase from $43.69 to $44.65 under the proposal, according to Currie. Sewer rates would remain the same under the proposed budget but Currie warns that future increases could be required in sewer rates to cover debt service for sewer rehabilitation projects currently getting underway.
Currie recognizes in his budget message that elected officials often do not want to increase but cautions, “At the same time, every year the cost of operations increases. This is due to fuel, energy costs and various other items necessary to operate. Over the past three years, the city has had not increased the rates of water and sewer (but) CPI indexes for water sewer and tax collection have increased over 11 percent in the same time period.”
Currie’s proposed budget does not recommend a new pay scale proposed by Police Chief Jeff Rozier for his department. Instead, Currie and finance director Coburn recommend an entire organization-wide salary study be completed for consideration in the 2019-20 budget. An interim police pay plan for police proposes a graduated scale, like Rozier proposed, but with lower percentages. Rozier’s proposed increases ranged from a low of 2.2 percent to a high of 17 percent. Brown’s plan begins with a three percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) which drops as rank increases. “Overall, if we implement the Chief’s plan as presented, the City will need to either reduce other expenses of raise revenues,” Currie writes council. “As a recommendation, I suggest following our Finance Director’s plan with the understanding that a comprehensive look at all salaries take place over the next year.”
Currie’s proposal includes a one percent COLA for overall staff and a maximum two percent merit increase based on employee performance evaluations.
The proposed budget also creates a new economic developer planner position with a salary range of $40,414 to $60,153, and adds office manager to the city clerk’s title with a 2.5 percent salary increase. “The clerk aids the manager with high level projects and offers sound advice,” Currie writes.