• 72°

Ahoskie avoids tax hike, but water/sewer rates will rise effective July 1

AHOSKIE – Pledging to save a little, to pay off a little extra debt, and to do some positive things for the community, the Ahoskie Town Council unanimously approved the town’s 2018-19 operating budget at their June 12 monthly meeting.

The budget proposes no change in the 81 cents per $100 of evaluation tax rate.

Also, despite a recommendation from both the town’s auditor and the Local Government Commission to increase water and sewer fees by 10 percent, the new budget increases those fees by just five percent. All other fees (planning, zoning, inspections) will remain the same. There will also no longer be a charge assessed for those town customers who pay by credit or debit card.

The new budget was balanced without appropriating funds from the town’s unassigned fund balance, which was reduced to zero about 15 months ago.

“We did not take any money out of fund balance,” said Town Manager Kerry McDuffie. “Hopefully, this adds $140,000 to the fund balance.”

The General Fund budget for FY 18-19 will be $6.11 million, nearly $180,000 less than the current year. It will go into effect on July 1 of this year.

McDuffie credited changes in staffing over the past year as aiding in reducing personnel costs by nearly $600,000. They were able to use those savings to increase the fund balance, earmark a 2.5 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for employees, pay down $136,000 on the town’s debt service, and spend $171,390 in improvements to facilities.

Last year at this time the General Fund budget was approved at $6.28 million for FY 17-18, and a far cry from the $7.65 million budget of FY 16-17, which also included a five cent increase on property taxes.

This was also McDuffie’s first full budget, as he came on board toward the end of the budgeting process last year.

The vote came after a required public hearing where on citizen spoke out: Donald Kirkland requested the water/sewer rate increase be publicized in the News-Herald.

Some long-awaited expenditures made their way into the FY 2018-19 budget, including $121,000 allocated for new SUV’s for the Ahoskie Police Department with a loan and grant from USDA, the paving of First Street ($110,000), rehabilitation on the Hardee’s Fish Market sewer lift station ($100,000), and repairs to Town Pump Well #1 ($100,000).

There were also some requests that did not make it in. They included: 16 laptops for police vehicles ($40,000) and an additional firefighter for the Ahoskie Fire Department.

The Fire Department did apply for a grant through the NC Department of Insurance that would have paid half the cost of several mechanical items submitted, but were rejected in the budget request; however, the city did not receive that grant, though they hope to purchase these items in the future.

$2.52 million in property tax is the leading source of revenue for the new budget. $1.2 million will come from the local options sales tax, $592,000 in garbage charges, $533,000 transfer from Powell Bill Funds, $275,000 in Utilities Franchise tax, and $253,000 in motor vehicle taxes.

Departmental appropriations from the new budget are topped by the Ahoskie Police Department as they were budgeted for $1.75 million while the Ahoskie Fire Department received $492,662, that amount was $17,600 less because the hiring of a new firefighter was not approved.

Some departments saw deep cuts, but did receive at least six figures worth of funds. They were: Cultural and Recreational: $155,767 (down from $931,555 in 17-18), Environmental Protection: $401,660 (down from $547,254), and Public Building and Grounds: $144,518 (a decrease from $172,729 over the next 12 months).

But some saw increases like Governing Body, jumping to $271,931 from their $144,300 in 17-18. Others included Administration (up to $636,467 from $627,355), Streets ($609,618 versus $595,454), Public Works ($296,087), and Planning & Zoning ($181,215).

The town’s separate Enterprise Fund (water and sewer services) remained much the same. That budget for 2017-18 totaled $3.66 million and was near that mark for a second straight budget year. The majority of that budget is paid for by user fees at better than $3.5 million collected.

There was no further discussion from Council once the budget was presented. Councilwoman Jamie Burns made a motion to approve it, seconded by Councilman Rev. C. David Stackhouse and it passed unanimously.

Mayor Jimmie Rowe thanked staff for their diligent work and adherence to fiscal responsibility in working on the 2018-19 budget.