Nickel more

Published 9:43 am Thursday, June 16, 2016

AHOSKIE – Following a public hearing at their June meeting the Ahoskie Town Council approved its 2016-17 budget; and with it, Ahoskie taxpayers will see a five cent tax increase on property taxes in the upcoming year.

In addition, rising operational costs of the town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and in order to balance the current budget the town’s water and sewer rates will also increased by an overall 10 percent.

The 2015-16 budget was formulated on a tax rate of 76 cents per $100 of value increasing in the 2016-17 budget to 81 cents per $100 of value.

The budget increased by 3.9 percent over last year’s, or $7,649,837 in General Fund expenditures and $4,139,096 in Enterprise Fund expenditures, a nearly 13.2 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s budget. Among the factors cited for the increase include a rise in professional services, utilities, employee benefits such as Health Care and Workers’ Comp., fuel oil/gasoline and auto and property insurance, the annual payment for the Police Station, the Fire Station and additional staff to fill vacancies.

Still, Town Manager Tony Hammond believes he and his staff have developed a viable and tight budget for the town.

“There has not been a tax increase since 2007,” Hammond said in his budget message. “However in order to balance the current budget, and at the continued recommendation of the North Carolina Local Government Commission (LGC) over the last four annual Ahoskie town audit reviews, it is recommended that the tax rate be increased.”

Someone who currently owns a $100,000 home at the tax rate of 76 cents per $100 would pay $760 annually in property taxes. Based on the new rate of 81 cents per $100, that sum now increases to $810 or $50 more per annum.

Hammond said the new level of tax base reflects a growth of new homes and new businesses but does not reflect the newer development of the last six months or the expected growth of the next 12 months. He does add that part of this tax increase will be used by the town’s public works to replace an over-15 year old leaf vacuum trailer with a new all-inclusive one man operated vehicle plus the continuation of private contract assistance as needed.

“One cent of the tax rate now yields $24,353,” Hammond further stated. “Over the last six fiscal years there has been a need to balance the budget by appropriating from both the Un-appropriated Fund Balance and Enterprise Fund which at the end of the year resulted in negative appropriations.”

This year the Town Manager says there won’t be a need to appropriate any funds from the Un-appropriated Fund Balance or the transfer of funds from the Enterprise Fund to the General Fund to offset water-and-sewer expenditures.

For the water-and-sewer rate increase Hammond used an example based on 3,000 gallons monthly water and sewer usage and it equaled an increase of just under $6 per month.

Presently, Ahoskie has a flat rate monthly water fee of $11, plus $3.85 per thousand gallons usage. 3,000 gallons (3 x $3.85) added to the flat fee would equal to $22.55 monthly for water and for sewer, a $21 flat fee + 3 x $5.55 equals to $37.65 monthly, making for a total of $60.20 per month.

Under the proposed rate with the same usage: the flat fee increases to $12.10 + 3 x $4.23 (new monthly water rate per thousand) = $24.79; and the increased sewer monthly flat fee comes to $23.10 + 3 x $6.10 (new monthly sewer rate) = $41.40 = Total $66.19. That would be an increase of $5.99.

Elsewhere, Hammond had some good revenue news: there was no need to appropriate any funds from the town’s Fund Balance for this year’s budget.

Also, the $.025 cent sales tax (for the town, if approved this year) could equal additional revenue, but it’s not scheduled on the November ballot and it’s yet to be determined how much this will equate to.

The good news on the expenditure side will be a 2% Merit and 2 % Cost of Living adjustment for town employees approved by Council at their budget work shop this year. The cost-of-living increase will be effective July 1 while the merit raises will be awarded on the individual’s anniversary month of hire, with the percentage based on performance over the last 12 months and recommendation by the department head to the manager.

In addition to Public Works’ new leaf vacuum truck, the Ahoskie Police Department will get replacement vehicles approved by Council; while Parks and Recreation will proceed with the construction of the inclusive playground equipment approved by Council for the Main Street Park.

It will also mean rolling up some sleeves, as the housekeeping (cleaning) contracts are being cancelled. Town Hall, the Ahoskie Library, Police Department and Fire Station will continue cleaning their own buildings which will save the town about $98,000.

Finally on the personnel side: with the switch to a consolidated E911 Center on July 1 the town will no longer be responsible for dispatching. Three of Ahoskie’s four dispatchers will move to Hertford County for an annual $98,000 in compensation. Several departmental vacancies will remain: one position in the Police Department, two positions in Public Works, and one position in Parks and Recreation. All of these positions had been vacant for over 12 months.

During the public hearing, former Council candidate Donald Kirkland inquired if the new budget included the new proposed Ahoskie Public Library and town street infrastructure repair, and he was told that it was.

“With the lack of revenue could not coming in, I don’t think this could have been avoided,” said Councilwoman Linda Blackburn.

“The way it’s broken down helps me understand it as a citizen,” said Mayor Pro Tem Rev. C. David Stackhouse. “When you make it real (water-and-sewer), it comes down to seven cents increase per day.

Councilman Justin Freeman asked about the budget review period (10 days), and if changes could be made.

“You can make changes to it now, and it would still take effect,” said Hammond. “The only thing that you can’t change after today is the tax rate after you set it. You can make other changes, like to water-and-sewer.”

Freeman said he felt comfortable with the five percent tax increase if it were going toward replenishing the reserves as opposed to operating costs.

“Traditionally, our departments rarely go over what they do,” Hammond replied. “Hypothetically, if (Public Work’s) budget is $1.4 million and (they) finishes at $1.3 million, then the remainder goes back into Fund Balance; and they normally come in under.”

Hammond said the town had to only withdraw from its Fund Balance once – in 2015. He said the LGC requires counties and towns to maintain a balance of at least eight percent of the prior year’s expenditures.

“Ours is way above that,” Hammond stated, “around 32 percent.”

Blackburn concurred with Freeman and suggested Council be given quarterly updates.

“If we had a report on (department) spending, then you could see that,” she said.

While Freeman seemed skeptical about the increase, his fellow council members said they valued his opinion.

“We like Justin’s mindset,” said Stackhouse.

With no further discussion, the public hearing then was closed and Stackhouse made a motion to approve the budget, seconded by Blackburn; the vote on the budget passed unanimously.