Public hearing on city budget tonight

By Tom Joyce -

Citizens have a chance tonight to weigh in on Mount Airy’s proposed budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which calls for a 10-cent hike in the property tax rate.

A public hearing on the spending plan will be held during a meeting of the city council which begins at 7 p.m.

In addition to the property tax increase, the preliminary budget includes a 2-percent increase in water and sewer rates. No water/sewer hike was imposed for the present fiscal year, but 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. Last year, only sworn members of the Mount Airy Police Department received raises.

In presenting the budget on May 17, City Manager Barbara Jones said the revenue provisions in the package — including the 10-cent tax increase — are necessary to maintain municipal services at their present levels.

The tax hike, which will be Mount Airy’s first in 11 years if ultimately approved by the commissioners, would generate additional revenues of $1.09 million.

Under the new taxation structure, going from 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 58 cents, someone who owns a $130,000 home, the median value for Mount Airy, would pay an additional $130 annually.

Also in order to maintain existing services, the city manager is proposing that about $1.25 million be taken from the city’s general fund balance, or reserves.

That prospect drew a response from Commissioner Jon Cawley when the board received copies of the budget during its May 17 meeting.

In reference to a statement by Jones that she had presented a “balanced budget,” Cawley said when plans call for using such a substantial sum of money from the city’s reserves, or savings, “you are not dealing with a balanced budget.”

Cawley also said he appreciated all the work that went into the preparation of the budget, but that he would not vote for the package in its present form.

Jones replied that the city government needs to adopt a financial strategy to ensure a balanced budget because the reserve fund can’t be relied on indefinitely.

The city’s available fund balance as of June 30, 2017 was $10.8 million. The balance at the end of Fiscal Year 2018-2019 is projected 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 for the next fiscal year totals $14.2 million and the water-sewer budget, $6.5 million.

No vote on the budget will occur tonight. In recent years after the public hearing, the commissioners have held a workshop to hammer out details of the spending plan before giving final approval.

The budget goes into effect on July 1.

By Tom Joyce

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

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