Sunday, May 19, 2024

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BURLINGTON PROPOSED BUDGET: Water, sewer rates up 5 percent; property taxes remain same


Mayor wants some other spending requests included

Burlington’s city manager has unveiled a proposed annual budget that calls for millions of dollars in added expenditures; increases in water, sewer, and vehicle registration fees; and a new levy on hotel accommodations – but forgoes any hike in the municipality’s property tax rate.

Yet, this spending plan, which city manager Craig Honeycutt formally debuted this week, appears to have fallen short of the expectations of Burlington’s mayor, who recommended a couple of additional outlays when Honeycutt presented his plan to the city council during its latest monthly work session on Monday.

As originally conceived, the city manager’s plan suggests a grand total of $128,120.42 in outlays for the new fiscal year – including $84,976,819 from the city’s general fund, a repository for various taxes and fees which bankrolls most of the city’s operations.

An increase of over $6.1 million from what the city adopted last spring, Honeycutt’s proposal for the general fund was nevertheless framed as a hold-the-line plan when it was unfurled to the council. In fact, the city manager described the overall theme of his budget as “taking care of existing assets” – and in particular those that appear on the municipality’s payroll.

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“We really consider our employees our greatest asset,” he proclaimed during the work session, “and 72 percent of this budget goes to salary and benefits for our employees.

Among the highlights of Honeycutt’s budget is an increase of $1.8 million in the payroll expenses for the city’s police department, an extra $1.2 million for other city departments, and $223,252 for four new positions that would be covered by the city’s general fund.


2% for “merit-based raises,” no COLAs

According to Honeycutt, the budget contains no “cost-of-living adjustment” for staff members, although it includes a merit-based raise that would average out to an extra 2 percent across the entire staff.

The budget also calls for $700,000 for “pay-as-you-go” capital improvements, $3.3 million in larger projects that would be bankrolled by an installment loan, and $2.3 million to foot various operational items that Honeycutt has filed under the heading of “noncontrollable increases.” This latter category is largely comprised of inflationary increases, although it also contains some admittedly new outlays, such as $471,501 in professional services for the city’s burgeoning pickleball facilities.


No property tax rate hike; 2% growth expected in property taxes, 3% in sales taxes

On the other side of the ledger, Honeycutt underscored that his budget envisions “no increase” in the city’s property tax rate of 48.36 cents for every $100 of value. He nevertheless noted that “natural” growth in the property tax base is expected to increase this levy’s proceeds by about 2 percent, while sales tax receipts are predicted to rise a relatively modest 3 percent due to some recent slippage in this revenue stream.


Occupany tax now included

Also included in Honeycutt’s proposed revenues is the anticipated haul from a new 3-percent surcharge on hotel and motel accommodations that Burlington recently implemented in tandem with several other area municipalities.

Among the beneficiaries of this so-called “occupancy tax” is a proposed marketing coordinator for the new municipal tourism development authority that will serve Burlington and the other communities which have adopted this levy. According to Honeycutt’s budget, revenue from the occupancy taxes will cover 75 percent of the $96,517 that this new hire is expected to cost in wages and benefits.


Water, sewer rates to go up 5%; vehicle registration tax to be doubled

In addition to the new occupancy tax, Honeycutt’s budget proposes a two-fold hike in the $5 vehicle registration tax which funds Burlington’s Link Transit bus system as well as a 5 percent increase in the water and sewer fees which sustain these public utilities.

Aside from the aforementioned marketing coordinator, Honeycutt’s budget calls for a new community support coordinator in the city’s animal services department. The city manager stressed that this new staff member’s proposed cost of $47,251 would be partially carried by other jurisdictions that rely on Burlington for this particular service.

Honeycutt nevertheless conceded that Burlington would be entirely on the hook for a new IT systems engineer who also appears in his budget as well as a GIS technician that the city manager proposes to upgrade from part-time to full-time status. Yet, the city manager has recommended phasing in these two additions midway through the fiscal year in order to minimize their budgetary impact.

Honeycutt went on to inform the council that, in order to maintain the city’s current property tax rate, he chucked out four other new hires that various city departments had sought in the new fiscal year.

These rejected positions include a part-time affordable housing technician, a groundskeeper for the city’s athletic facilities, a community engagement technician, and an IT business analysis. Between them, these four posts would’ve set the city back an additional $238,691.50.


Mayor wants some items restored for funding

Yet, Honeycutt’s decision to dispense with one of these departmental requests ultimately drew a tut-tut from Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler.

Burlington mayor Jim Butler

During Monday’s work session, Butler suggested that the city manager should rethink his stance on the part-time affordable housing technician, whose wages are expected to add $26,912.50 to the bottom line.

“I’d personally like to see us work that into the budget,” the mayor told the rest of the council that evening, “because this issue is only going to get more impactful…We’ve got this emerging need, and I’m afraid we’re going to be spread a little bit thin.”

The rest of the council went on to concur with his recommendation.

“It’s not that much money,” agreed councilman Bob Ward. “I certainly think it could go a long way to identify what we need to do for affordable housing.”

Butler also encouraged the city manager to expand his budget to include a new “pocket park” that has been suggested by the Burlington Downtown Corporation – a city-sponsored nonprofit that spearheads various ventures in the city’s downtown business district. The mayor acknowledged that he only learned of this proposal last month when the corporation’s former director delivered her annual report to the council. He insisted, however, that it would be worthwhile to pursue this endeavor at the corporation’s proposed price point of $300,000.

“In the grand scheme of things, I’d like to see us put about half that money aside,” he told the rest of the council, “and let them do their fund raising…I think we can put that in this budget, and I think our revenues are going to be fine.”

Butler went on to direct Honeycutt to include an extra $150,000 in his proposed budget to cover half of the pocket park’s expected cost.

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