Public input sought on city budget Thursday

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy residents have a chance Thursday night to weigh in on a preliminary city budget that projects some hits to their pocketbooks.

A public hearing on the spending plan for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is scheduled during a 7 p.m. meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners. Thursday’s session will be held in council chambers of the Municipal Building.

Citizens are invited to offer comments on the proposed budget, which calls for leaving the property tax rate at 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, but higher or new charges in two other revenue areas after the fiscal year begins on July 1.

One is a proposed 4-percent hike in municipal water and sewer rates, which would increase the bill of the average in-city residential customer by $26.16 annually. City water-sewer rates have been unchanged since 2008, with the hike now proposed said to be necessary to help fund infrastructure needs for the utility system which can’t be met under the present rate structure and use volume.

The city’s water and sewer system operates separately from the general fund, or regular operating budget. The water-sewer component is an enterprise fund in which costs must be matched by revenues generated from consumers.

A new type of charge also is in store for the next fiscal year, a proposed tax of $15 on each licensed vehicle in the municipality. Of that total, $5 would be unrestricted — meaning it could be put into the general fund — with the other $10 to go toward maintaining, repairing, constructing and improving public streets that are not on the state highway system.

As of July 1, all North Carolina municipalities will have the authority to levy a tax of up to $30 per registered vehicle in accordance with state law, as a way to create new revenue for infrastructure needs.

The 2016-2017 preliminary city budget also includes funding for pay raises in order to begin bringing municipal workers up to an average level reflected in a municipal salary survey for the state, but no percentage figure is listed.

If approved as part of the budget, the proposed pay increases will vary, depending on tenure and position, a budget summary from the city manager states. Overall, personnel costs — which make up 60.9 percent of municipal spending — would be projected to grow by 8 percent as a result.

Special appropriations to outside agencies — including the public library, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and Mount Airy Rescue Squad — are budgeted at a total of $218,550, an increase of 6.5 percent from 2015-2016.

The library and arts council are proposed to receive the same levels as this fiscal year, $102,650 and $87,500, respectively, and the rescue squad slightly more, from $5,000 to $7,500.

Meanwhile, the museum would receive the same $10,000 regular allocation approved for 2015-2016, plus up to $10,900 more to cover the cost of automated electronic defibrillators (AEDs) for the facility and cornice repairs to its building.

Mount Airy’s proposed general fund budget for 2016-2017 calls for total appropriations of $14,469,370, which is 1.14 percent less than the adjusted budget for the present fiscal year, according to City Manager Barbara Jones.

A separate budget for the water-sewer operation calls for appropriations of $6,541,019, an increase of 1.29 percent in that category from this year.

To help balance the general fund budget, $3.1 million would be earmarked from the city’s fund balance, or savings, which totaled more than $12 million at the close of 2015.

The proposed spending plan also includes money for a roll-off truck in the sanitation division along with mowers and the replacement of vehicles in other departments.

Feedback thus far

So far, citizen reaction to the proposed budget has been relatively mild since it was released on May 19, according to Commissioner Dean Brown, the senior member of the city council.

“It’s just been typical,” Brown said Tuesday.

“Most people have talked about it pleasantly and not been too critical,” he added. “The most critical I’ve heard is (about) the $15 car fee.”

However, there is support among the citizenry for that, according to Brown.

“A lot of people have said the car tax is a fair tax — everyone uses our streets and sidewalks.”

The new levy would ensure that those who don’t pay property taxes, but do own vehicles, are contributing their share toward that infrastructure, Brown explained.

No vote on the budget is expected by the commissioners Thursday night.

They are scheduled to follow up Thursday’s meeting with a budget workshop on June 8. In recent years, final approval of the annual revenue/spending package has occurred during that session.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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