BOONE — The Boone Town Council will vote on a proposed budget June 17 that includes a $.03 cent tax rate increase to $.44 cents per $100 in property valuation.
The council members met on June 4 with Boone Town Manager John Ward to review and inquire about proposed town budget.
Council members had questions related to the tax rate increase of three cents to $.44 cents per $100. Ward explained the increase would mean that a property that costs $300,000 the tax would be $90 a year or $7.50 a month.
The last tax rate increase for Boone came in 2014 when the rate increased from $.37 cents to the current rate of $.41 cents. The county tax rate was last increased in 2019 from $.35 cents to $.40 cents.
The new tax rate increase would fund priorities that were outlined in a Feb. 22 workshop. The funds from the tax rate increase would go toward hiring two new police officer positions for $237,250, which also includes the cost of two additional hybrid vehicles.
While discussing the budget, Council Member Dustin Hicks asked if instead of hiring two new police officers, there could be compromise and instead hire one police officer and one social worker position.
“I think that would go a long way to address some of the needs that our police are currently serving,” Hicks said during the meeting. “I think it would be better to have somebody staffed that does that work to address cases where people are dealing with mental health or other issues and are therefore people that come before the police repeatedly.”
Hicks mentioned that by having a trained social work person to help manage mental health issues, it would help combat people needing repeated police assistance.
Ward acknowledged the suggestion by Hicks, and asked about looking into that at a future date since Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau has expressed the need for two additional officers. Ward, who said he was not against the idea, added that under Le Beau, there has been an increase in training regarding mental health.
“The reason I’m saying that I would recommend the two police officers versus splitting that up also, is that under the chief’s leadership, we have extended and enhanced our partnerships to where we would have access to those professionals and we would have the assistance of those professionals without taking on the cost,” Ward said.
Le Beau, who also attended the meeting, mentioned the community resource officer in the department who has been embedded in different organizations related to mediation and restorative justice.
Another $63,278 from the tax rate increase would go toward hiring another person in the planning and inspections department. The need for the new position, Ward said, was because of how much commercial permitting has increased over the years.
In 2010, the town processed a little over $30 million in commercial permits. In 2020 the town processed nearly $157 million in commercial permits.
The remainder of the generated income from the tax rate increase — $144,200 — would go toward town sustainability projects. The 2021-22 budget would include the purchase of seven new hybrid vehicles for the town.
A large aspect of the budget that’s different from previous years is the $2.8 million additional funds available through the American Rescue Funds, which the United States Congress passed in March to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ward said the American Rescue funds for Boone would go toward costly infrastructure projects. Some of those projects include repair and maintenance at the wastewater treatment plant, economic development and business support, and an upgrade of the UV system at the wastewater treatment plant that treats water before it goes back into the New River.
The proposed budget also includes $128,000 to replace the downtown parking meters. The meters would still look the same, but the internal technology would be replaced to upgrade them out of 2G and 3G cellular technology.
Among other items in the budget includes $95,000 to AppalCART, $625,000 to the Howard Street project, $20,000 for the November elections, $55,000 to replace radios for the Boone Fire Department and a 10 percent one-time bonus for all town staff.
Council Member Sam Furgiuele mentioned that if the town allocated that 10 percent bonus to town staff, people may think they would have a decrease in pay the following year if the salary did not also rise.
Ward said that the council would have to ensure that the staff understood it was not a salary change, but rather a one-time bonus.
The Boone Town Council will have a public hearing on June 15 related to the budget before voting on the budget on June 17. The budget must be adopted by July 1. The meeting time and agenda can be found at boonenc.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.
The full budget can be found at tinyurl.com/7trfx467.