Ahoskie budget approved

Published 1:04 pm Saturday, June 13, 2009

AHOSKIE – The good news for Ahoskie citizens is that the current property tax rate (77 cents per $100 of valuation) will remain the same for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

However, change is in store for the current water and sewer rates.

On Tuesday, the Ahoskie Town Council approved a $5.02 million General Fund budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. Within that same financial document was a $3.3 million Enterprise Fund budget.

The budget was approved by a 3-0 vote with only two council members – Malcolm Copeland and Elaine Myers – physically attending the meeting. The third voting member – O.S. “Buck” Suiter Jr. – was linked to the meeting via a conference telephone call, which is allowed per Town of Ahoskie bylaws. Suiter was out of town, but accessible by phone. Councilmen Ronald Gatling and Maurice Vann were both absent from the meeting.

While the property tax rate was unchanged, the town’s newly adopted Schedule of Fees includes some new twists for water/sewer customers.

That newly adopted schedule (effective July 1) rewards the town’s citizens for conservation measures. There is now a monthly flat rate of $10 for water and $20 for sewer from zero to 2,999 gallons. Once a user exceeds 3,000 gallons is where additional fees are assessed.

For example, customers using between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons monthly will be charged an additional $3.65 per 1,000 gallons of water and $5.35 for each 1,000 gallons of sewer. Those fees increase by $1 each for water/sewer usage of 5,001-10,000 gallons; 10,001-20,000 gallons; 20,001-40,000 gallons and 40,001-plus gallons.

Additionally there is a $5.15 monthly surcharge added to each water bill. Residential garbage collection is $20 per month ($30 for commercial pick-up).

Those water/sewer rates were increased as the town moves forward with its $18 million expansion to the wastewater treatment plant. Town Manager Tony Hammond said the hike was not only necessary to assist in paying for the expansion ($800,000 is due as the first installment in 2010-2011), but also for the hiring of two additional treatment plant operators and to set aside money to make annual payments on the $1.8 million the town borrowed for a Construction Loan and Grant Project. He further explained that the town needed to edge its water and sewer fees closer to the required rate ($53.70 per 5,000 gallons) in order to become eligible for multiple state and federal grants to help offset the cost of the expansion project.

As for the General Fund portion of the new budget it marks nearly a 25 percent decrease in amount currently needed to operate town services. The town’s 2008-09 General Fund budget was $6.37 million.

Hammond said he felt staff had developed a viable budget despite increases in professional services, utilities, employee’s healthcare/worker’s compensation, fuel oil/gasoline and auto/property insurance costs. Hammond added that he and the town’s department heads also had to work in to the new budget the additional staff required to cover the new annexation areas (effective July 1), set aside money for the first payment of the town’s new police station (scheduled to be occupied later this month) and the purchase of police vehicles.

“Because this is an extremely tight budget year, with a few exceptions, most capital purchases were removed from the departmental requests for the new budget,” Hammond said.

The existing tax rate will be applied to a new estimated tax base of $195,411,644 (residential and corporate) as well as $16,473,064 in personal property values for a total valuation of $211,884,708. That total value is expected to generate $1,588,930 in tax revenue.

Hammond pointed out that $88,933 was used from unappropriated fund balance to balance the 2009-10 budget. He stressed that same scenario was used for the current year budget, but due to outstanding management practices by the department heads and other town staff, the current year appropriation was not needed.

Other than the nearly $1.6 million generated by property tax, other major revenue streams for the new budget include a transfer from the Water/Sewer Fund ($782,509), local option sales tax ($650,000), garbage fees ($654,000), motor vehicle taxes ($155,201) and utilities franchise tax ($140,000).

The Ahoskie Police Department ($1,964,782) receives the biggest share of the budget. Other notable departmental expenditures include Cultural/Recreational ($508,865), Administration ($480,369), Environmental Protection ($448,895), Fire Department ($472,642), Streets ($407,334), Public Works ($276,335) and Building and Grounds ($157,310).

Meanwhile, the $3.3 million Enterprise Fund budget reflects a 38 percent increase over current year spending ($2.33 million). Of that newly budgeted amount, the town expects just over $2.6 million from water and sewer fees paid by those using the system.

“In these tough economic times, the town administrators, department heads and every employee of Ahoskie are to be commended for the wonderful job they did together in creating this budget,” Mayor Linda Blackburn said. “It’s a tight budget; I just hope and pray we can get through the year without any major problems.”