Salisbury Mayor’s Budget Holds Line On Property Tax Rate

SALISBURY – Mayor Jim Ireton presented the City Council and public with proposed fiscal year 2012 budget on Monday, reiterating this year’s budget is strong due to the sacrifices made by the city’s departments and employees.

The mayor’s proposed budget calls for spending close to $50 million, a 4.62-percent increase from 2011 which was about $47 million. He also proposed a little over $30 million be placed in the general fund, a 5.97-percent increase since 2011.

According to Ireton, there have been major revenue reductions in real property tax, railroad and utilities property tax, admission and amusement tax, building permits, administration fees and parking fees.

There has been a significant amount of budget cuts (16 to 17 percent) across the city’s departments. The largest cuts made were by Public Works, which is close to $100,000 in this year’s budget and a little under $954,000 since fiscal year 10. Also, the police department cut about $70,000 this year and close to $210,000 since fiscal year 2010. The total amount cut across the city’s departments this year is about $300,000 and close to $1.5 million since fiscal year 2010.

“So when we say to people the government is doing more with less… we mean it,” Ireton said.

The mayor is proposed two fewer employee furlough days than last year. It’s two days for employees making less than $30,000 and then the days increase by two as the employees’ pay grade increases. The city is planning to make the associated reductions in pay pre-tax but these reductions will not affect the future retirement benefits of its employees.

“For employees we’re going to see the outlook is a little bit better…we’re going to show you just like the cutting of operations in the operations budget and what employees have done to make it possible for the government really to function,” Ireton said. “We got through the tough times on the backs of the employees through furlough days and the cutting of their budgets.”

According to Ireton, the city’s unfunded initiatives include four police vehicles, a fire sedan, a utility truck, police overtime and training, pavement marketing and the government office building’s window replacement and tinting.

“To be honest with the public if these are your unfunded initiatives you know that the government is getting ready to coming to a standstill because there isn’t a whole lot left and a whole lot going on,” he said.

Ireton’s budget includes a proposed $541,000 being removed from the capital surplus to fund capital improvements projects like Vine Street flood engineering, Beaverdamn Creek engineering, Harbor Pointe sidewalk, one ambulance, four police vehicles, police radio leases, Camden and College Avenue traffic signal and an IT server for the government office building.

“It is important for the public to understand that those [infrastructure projects] are onetime costs and they will not roll over into next year,” Ireton said. “If you look at the surpluses and if you add them all together there is over $11 million in surplus the city has in all of those funds put together, like the Moody’s fund for $400,000 saved for the rainy day. Well I will say to you, with what city heads cut in order to make sure we did not have to fire employees that we have now reached that time to start looking at the rainy day. The rainy day is here.”

In summary, the mayor presented, “with adjustments in priorities and staffing the city has made since the economy tanked and with sluggish growth continuing to be forecasted, it is the priority of this administration to refocus local government efforts in the most critical of areas to our citizens: law enforcement, emergency medical service, infrastructure and neighborhood integrity. We do this with no property tax increase for the fourth year in a row.”

Ireton added that the following recommendations for fee increases include $7.50 rate hike for the landlord licensing and rental registration fee, increase the parking permit fee by $5 per month for the prime parking lots, and increase the sewer rates by 18.6 percent.

The parking permits fee increase is in accordance with a parking study completed in October 2007, which recommended increases to ensure that the fees charged for the parking lots can cover the maintenance expenditure necessary. The sewer rate increase is based primarily on the need to continue working on the Corrective Action Plan for the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Following Ireton’s proposal of his budget, ordinances involving the new water and sewer rates, as well as amending city parking rates were presented and council voted unanimously to pass them through first reading.

Internal Services Director Pam Oland explained the rates proposed include no increase for water bills. The proposed increase in sewer rates will result in an increased cost of $15.63 per quarter for a residential customer using 8,000 gallons of water. Because this is an increase on only sewer rates, the increase calculates to an effective rate increase of 15 percent on the entire water and sewer bill. The rates will take effect for usage after July 1, 2011 and will appear on all bills dated Oct. 1, 2011 and later.