BOONE — Despite some concerns about continued COVID-19 revenue impacts, the Boone Town Council voted unanimously June 4 to add a 2 percent pay raise for town staff to the proposed 2020-21 budget.
The council met via a web conference meeting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to consider items carried over from a May 21 meeting agenda and to discuss Town Manager John Ward’s proposed 2020-21 budget.
The budget as amended June 4 would spend a total of $27,385,840, nearly a 5 percent decrease, or $1,363,760, less than the 2019-20 adopted budget of $28,749,600.
Citing a reduction in revenues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ward’s budget proposal submitted to the council a few days earlier did not include staff pay raises and noted that the majority of capital outlay involving vehicle and equipment replacement would be delayed. Ward proposed that the town allocate $1,190,000 from its available General Fund balance to help balance the budget and maintain current service levels without a property tax increase.
The state’s Local Government Commission recommends that local governments retain an available General Fund balance of at least 8 percent of General Fund operating expenditures, but the town sets a higher goal of 35 percent.
According to Ward’s budget proposal, allocating $1.19 million from the fund balance would have left $282,879 in excess of the 35 percent goal “available for emergency use.”
The 2 percent cost-of-living increase, which excludes the council’s stipends, will cost $212,507 — $165,737 from the General Fund and $46,770 from the Water & Sewer Fund, Finance Director Amy Davis told the council.
The council went back and forth on the issue of pay raises, with some pondering if the town should keep the $282,879 in the General Fund as a buffer, or if the town should give a 1 percent raise instead.
“I feel like 2 percent might be a little bit much in the situation that we’re in now,” Councilperson Loretta Clawson said.
“I think all of us are going to have to cut back until we know what’s coming down the road,” Mayor Rennie Brantz added.
But Councilperson Sam Furgiuele argued for the pay raise, saying he didn’t want staff salaries to lose too much ground against the rising costs of living.
“I think the money is there for 2 percent, and I think we should do 2 percent,” he said.
The council ultimately reached consensus on the 2 percent raise.
The raise takes the proposed General Fund expenditures to $16,387,194, a $684,254 decrease from the 2019-20 adopted General Fund budget.
But the council also directed Ward to look further for the potential to fill a vacant assistant town manager position and to fund additional police officer positions.
Ward said he would attempt to find funds in the General Fund and Water & Sewer Fund to support the assistant town manager position, but “while I fully support increasing the number of police officers that are funded,” he did not believe that would be possible without a tax increase.
Under the current proposal, the property tax rate would remain at 41 cents per $100 valuation, and no water and sewer rate increases are recommended.
In addition to helping make up for revenue shortfalls, the $1.19 million from the fund balance would be used to provide $115,000 to outside agencies, spend $25,000 for masks for public distribution and $50,000 for the Grove Street Connector project.
A public hearing on the budget will be held at the regular council meeting later this month.