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Advisory board co-chair offers only comment on Elon’s proposed budget

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Elon’s town council has moved one step closer to the passage of a new municipal budget with a state-mandated public hearing on the financial recommendations that the town manager unveiled earlier this spring.

This hearing, which took place on Tuesday, ultimately drew just one comment from an advisory board member who wanted to make sure that her appointed advisory board isn’t left out of the funding allocations for the new fiscal year.

In the meantime, Tuesday’s hearing gave Elon’s town manager Richard Roedner an opportunity to brief the council on some of the latest developments with the spending plan that he originally unfurled roughly two months ago.

Elon town manager Richard Roedner

When he first debuted his budget to the council in March, Roedner acknowledged that there were still several moving targets that could upset his predictions for next financial cycle. He nevertheless presented a tentative budget that called for nearly $11 million in outlays from the town’s general fund – with allocations for a new skatepark, two new staff-level posts, and a 3-percent pay raise for the town’s entire municipal staff.  Roedner also foresaw no need for an increase in the town’s property tax rate, which he proposed to keep at its current level of 35 cents for every $100 of value.

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That rate was set last year, after the countywide revaluation, at a rate 4.34 cents, or about 14 percent, higher than the rate the county’s tax officer had estimated the town needed to break even following a countywide property revaluation in 2023.

Over the next couple of months since his original budget presentation, Roedner returned to the council with periodic updates on some of the budget’s more volatile elements. He acknowledged, for instance, that the town’s health insurance premiums were coming in much higher than anticipated, and he confessed that an ongoing pay study threatened to add hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to his proposed expenditures for the town.

By the time that the council convened Tuesday’s public hearing, Roedner conceded that he had really been through the wringer due to these ever-changing fiscal adjustments.

“I have worked on quite a few budgets in my years,” he went on to confess, “and this was one of the most difficult.”

Roedner added, however, that the budget’s biggest uncertainties had largely resolved themselves ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. He pointed out, for example, that the aforementioned pay study had hit on a final cost of about $175,000. He added that this figure will bankroll proposed pay increases ranging from 1 to 7.5 percent for all 67 of the town’s full-time employees.

Roedner proceeded to note that he was able to save about $60,000 on employee health insurance by switching the town’s carrier from Aetna to Blue Cross & Blue Shield. He cautioned, however, that this discount is a one-time deal for Blue Cross’ new customers that won’t be available in forthcoming years.

Another recent adjustment concerned the town’s water and sewer fees, which are pegged to the utility rates in Burlington, which ultimately provides Elon with both public water and sewer. Earlier this month, Burlington’s town manager unveiled a proposed budget that called for 5-percent hikes in both of these services, which Roedner acknowledged Elon will pass along to its own residents in the new fiscal year.

In many other respects, Roedner’s proposed budget has remained more or less where it was two months ago – with a hold-the-line property tax rate, capital outlays that include a new skatepark, and a 3-percent cost of living adjustment for the town’s municipal staff. In order to justify the latter recommendation, Roedner compared the staff’s latest cost of living adjustments with the growth in the Consumer Price Index since 2021. The result of this exercise was that, while the town manager found that the staff had received pay raises worth a cumulative 13.5 percent during that period, the CPI shot up by a factor of 20.3 percent.

In the end, the only concern that Roedner’s budget drew during Tuesday’s public hearing came from Wendy Scott, the co-chair of Elon’s advisory committee on diversity, equity, and belonging.

Wendy Scott, co-chair of Elon’s advisory committee on diversity, equity, and belonging.

During her allotted time at the microphone, Scott informed the town council that she and her colleagues had sought a financial allocation that would allow them to continue their work on behalf of the town.

“We have requested what I think is a modest amount of $15,000,” she added. “We submitted the request to the town manager and the town clerk on May 17, and we understand that it’s still not in the budget.”

In response to Scott’s concern, Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe noted that she had been under the impression that the committee would present a progress report to accompany its budget request.

“We think it would be beneficial to have the DEB make this report at an upcoming meeting,” she added.

Roedner assured the town’s mayor that the committee’s report could be added to the agenda for the council’s next regularly-scheduled meeting on June 11.

In addition to holding the aforementioned public hearing on Roedner’s proposed budget, Elon’s town council also approved a couple of mid-year amendments to the town’s current spending plan during its meeting on Tuesday.

During that evening’s proceedings, the council voted 4-to-0 to set aside an extra $200,000 to replace a water line along East Haggard Avenue. Richard Roedner had requested this sum in order to cover “significant cost over runs” in the $3.2 million project, which he added would grind to a premature halt without the extra infusion of cash.

The council also voted 4-to-0 to allocate another $233,000 for some emergency repairs to a sewer pump station along Travis Creek.

Donnie Wood, the town’s public work director, had assured the council that this entire device would need extensive doctoring since some of its irreplaceable parts have become damaged beyond repair.

“The pump station is in dire straits,” he added. “It is literally falling apart around us.”
Absent from Tuesday’s meeting, as well as the council’ s unanimous votes, was councilmember Stephanie Bourland, who was on vacation that evening.

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