Mount Airy residents haven’t been hit with a property tax increase in 11 years, but that streak is threatened in a budget proposal for the 2018-2019 fiscal year which calls for a 10-cent hike.
The last time taxes were raised was in 2007, and since then the rate gradually has been cut by a total of 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. But two-thirds of that would be restored under the preliminary spending plan revealed Thursday night by City Manager Barbara Jones.
If it is approved by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners sometime next month, the property tax rate will jump from 48 cents per $100 to 58 cents when the 2018-2019 fiscal year begins on July 1. However, that won’t occur until after citizens get a chance to weigh in on the package at a public hearing during the commissioners’ next meeting on June 7.
“The proposed budget has been developed to provide the same quality services to our community,” the city manager states in a budget message to the mayor and commissioners accompanying the spending proposal.
“As I have made you aware for the past number of years, we must plan for our future with adequate revenues that meet the desired services that this board wants to provide to our community,” Jones said Thursday night when presenting the budget.
The 10-cent hike would produce new revenues of $1.09 million, with total property tax proceeds for next year put at $6.35 million.
With that change, the owner of a $130,000 home, the median value for Mount Airy, would pay an additional $130 annually.
In addition to the prospect of higher property taxes, a 2-percent increase in water and sewer rates is included in the proposed budget. Although no water/sewer hike was imposed for the present fiscal year, rates were raised by 4 percent two years ago.
The proposed spending plan also includes a 2-percent across-the-board pay raise for all full-time city employees, numbering 172 altogether, who are performing at levels of efficient or above.
Only sworn members of the Mount Airy Police Department received raises last year.
In addition to the extra revenue generated by the property tax hike, the budget proposal allocates $1.25 million from the city’s general fund balance, or reserves, “in order to provide the same services to our community,” Jones’ budget message states.
The city’s available fund balance as of June 30, 2017 was $10.8 million. The estimated balance at the end of Fiscal Year 2018-2019 is estimated to be slightly more than $8 million, or 57.2 percent of overall budgeted expenditures
Mount Airy has separate general fund and water-sewer budgets. The proposed general fund segment totals $14.2 million and the water-sewer budget, $6.5 million.
The proposed budget lists a number of major expenditures during the next fiscal year, including for ongoing redevelopment efforts at the former Spencer’s industrial property owned by the municipal government since 2014.
It includes anticipated debt payments next year of $180,000 related to Phase I infrastructure improvements for the Spencer’s site. Phase I will serve an 80-unit upscale apartment complex on the property which is expected to be under construction by Labor Day.
Total capital outlay spending is set at $845,782 for the general fund portion of the budget. Capital outlay refers to major expenditures for equipment and other needs.
Funding is included for paving projects, three police vehicles, upgrades of Mount Airy Parks and Recreation equipment, a dump truck and needs of the Public Works Department, along with $36,000 for debt payback for a new fire truck.
The proposed capital outlay budget for water-sewer is $995,500, which includes money for replacement of lines and storm-drainage issues.
Special city appropriations to outside agencies are listed at $215,150, including Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, the Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy Rescue Squad, the Northwestern Regional Library system and city schools.
That would keep the funding for such agencies at present levels, although the museum has requested a total of $61,989, up from $10,000 this fiscal year, largely to upgrade its security system.
More planning prescribed
Jones’ budget outlook reflects her belief that better fiscal planning by city officials is needed going forward, in order to meet upcoming expenditures without depleting the reserve monies.
“The fund balance remains strong, but revenues and expenditures must come within line to continue and sustain our healthy financial position,” she said Thursday night when introducing the preliminary budget.
“It is my recommendation that we formally adopt a fund balance policy and develop a strategic plan for the replacement of capital, identified projects and develop a framework to follow to secure our financial health into the future.”
The city manager said that overall, the proposed budget will “address the top-priority needs of the city and is set to maintain a high level of service for the city of Mount Airy.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.