BLOWING ROCK — A three-cent property tax increase from $0.38 to $0.41 per $100 valuation is part of the proposed Blowing Rock 2019-20 fiscal year budget that was unveiled May 31, then discussed at a budget workshop on June 4 at Town Hall.
The bi-monthly water and sewer base fees are also slated to go up from the minimum $45 to $47 and from $6 to $6.25 in the per-thousand-gallons fee. Commercial solid waste fees went up 10 percent across the board and the monthly curbside recycling fee was raised from $4 to $4.50.
The presented budget is a 17.42 percent decrease from 2018-19 from $13,702,197 to $11,314,832, but the drop in capital projects by more than $3 million accounted for that and then some. In 2018-19, Blowing Rock took on the Sunset Drive streetscape project along with more than $800,000 in water and sewer improvements that aren’t being budgeted for in 2019-20.
The operating budget increased 6.55 percent from $10,352,770 in 2018-19 to $11,030,889 in 2019-20, pushed higher by personnel, debt service and operating and maintenance costs.
“This budget, we feel, addresses the immediate needs and tried to address future needs.” said Blowing Rock Finanace Manager Nicole Norman.
The workshop was adjourned after roughly three hours and will be resumed on June 18 at 6 p.m. Council is currently scheduled to consider final budget adoption on June 24 at a managerial retreat.
The revenues include a $160,000 transfer from the fund balance, which Norman said will still keep the town well above its stated goal of having a reserve fund balance of 50 percent, or six months, of its annual general fund expenditures. According to Town Manager Shane Fox, many municipalities aim for reserve funds equal to 35 percent of their general fund expenditures.
Police funding such as a school resource officer, new hybrid vehicles, dash cameras and new tasers were included in the budget. Blowing Rock funded an SRO starting in 2018-19, with Lance Dotson serving in the role at Blowing Rock School. Councilman Doug Matheson said that there’s been discussions with Watauga County to rotate a different SRO into Blowing Rock School one day a week so Dotson can be freed up to help with other Blowing Rock Police Department needs.
The personnel increases are due to state insurance rate increases, which Matheson said will increase again in 2020-21, and a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment. There are no plans to add any new town positions, Fox said.
Council members wanted to explore the potential of converting some of the cost-of-living salary increases into a merit-based increase. Fox told the council it would be some time before he could get a merit-based system completed, possibly early 2020 at the earliest, due to the complexity of such a process. Fox did say he would present options at the June 18 budget workshop for withholding some of the cost-of-living increase until halfway through the year and determine if a merit-based study would be ready for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Former interim Town Manager Jim Freeman, who is working on a contract basis with the town throughout the year as Fox transitions into the position, added that there’s an extra $30,000 budgeted for potential merit-based increases.
Citizen Tim Gupton gave his analysis of the budget and asked the council to consider only a 2 cent property tax increase and fund the rest from the reserve fund balance, saying the growth burden needed to be controlled during the peak in the debt service period.
General obligation bonds worth $13 million were approved by town voters in 2014, designed to help the town improve its streets, sidewalks and gutters, parks and recreation facilities, water and sewer systems.
The town is scheduled to receive $2.4 million in bond allocation in 2019-20, followed by $3.7 million in 2020-21.
Gupton also implored the town to watch personnel spending, saying the growth of 40 percent in that expenditure in the last five years is unsustainable.
Other notes from the budget workshop include:
- Recodification of town codes is slated to be completed in the 2019-20 fiscal year. Freeman started the changes during his interim tenure, stating that many codes were outdated and that it will help the town with its governance in the future.
- Conditional use permit applications for commercial usage went up from $500 to $750 and other fees, including Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation summer camp and swimming lessons, went up.
- Freeman added that as part of potential future planning included in the budget, there is a chance for Blowing Rock to do sector dispatching for non-emergency police calls during the daytime, instead of having all calls go to Boone, in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
- Council members want to explore different waste and recycling options in the future, unhappy with the rate increases from Republic.
- The town will explore creating a compost facility out of land they already own.
- The council directed Fox to look at the public bathroom costs and determine what is necessary.
- Councilwoman Sue Sweeting said that she feels the town is a little out of control in its purchases, noting the town currently has 89 vehicles.
- Fox told council he will meet with the N.C. Department of Transportation about what Councilwoman Virginia Powell said was the “unacceptable” amount of trees they planted along U.S. 321 that have died.