BLOWING ROCK — After a quick process with the new town manager, Blowing Rock’s Town Council unanimously approved its 2019-20 fiscal year budget during a managerial retreat on Monday, June 24.
The approved budget includes a one cent per $100 valuation property tax increase from $0.38 to $0.39 to account for higher personnel, debt service and operating and maintenance costs. The increase was less than an earlier proposal of three cents to $0.41.
After discussion at its two budget retreats on June 4 and 18, the budget includes a 1 percent salary raise for employees and a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment.
The budget included a total net decrease of $219,080 from the original proposed budget as council decided against expenditures such as a new lawnmower, refitting older vehicles and new restrooms at Annie Cannon Gardens and Davant Field.
The council also approved increasing Robbins Pool fees for nonresidents, effective July 1, but made a residential rate exemption for Blowing Rock School students who aren’t town residents, but show their report cards.
Additional Blowing Rock Alcohol Beverage Commission funds will go to help fund the school resource officer position at Blowing Rock School to the tune of $50,000.
Following the budget approval, the town held a managerial retreat. Town Manager Shane Fox gave a presentation on the Sunset Drive streetscape project, noting the sewer portion of the project is 83 percent completed and should be done in the next couple weeks. Water work is 1 percent done and the streetscape work is 25 percent done, still on track to be completed by the end of 2019.
The Bass Lake sidewalk project, which will connect Main Street to Bass Lake along U.S. 221, is now in the hands of the N.C. Department of Transportation, Fox explained. The easements have been obtained after months of back and forth, Fox added, and the town has done everything they need to do. Fox said the project will go out to bid when NCDOT’s legal department gives its final OK.
The construction will take a calendar year, Fox said, due to stormwater management and retaining walls that will need to be built.
Town staff was directed to work on an ordinance that would change the qualifications for board appointments, allowing Blowing Rock taxpayers to apply for and serve as long as they meet the attendance requirements.
Former interim Town Manager Jim Freeman said that the ongoing recodifying process, which will update the town’s code of ordinances, is a perfect opportunity to redo those rules.
The council expressed concern if Watauga County were to change its sales tax distribution method from the currently-used ad valorem method – which distributes local sales tax by property tax value, back to per capita, which would distribute local sales tax by population. Blowing Rock has received a combined $2 million extra from the ad valorem distributions method since it was implemented in 2013.
Watauga County elected to keep the ad valorem method in 2019-20 during its budget process.
Councilman Doug Matheson said the town’s fire department would be hit the hardest by a sales tax distribution change.
Further, council asked Fox to discuss Davant Field usage with the county. Currently, the county has a lease on the town’s Davant Field and schedules dates in advance for potential usage. According to Powell, if the county schedules a certain date and time, nothing else can be scheduled there, even if the county doesn’t use it during a specific time.
“That field should be covered up with children all the time,” Powell said. “That’s a great flat field, great parking in the middle of a beautiful town.”
Fox said he wants to be able to build a relationship with Watauga County and see if the Blowing Rock council’s grievances can be settled by a discussion.