Mebane city manager Chris Rollins unveiled his proposed municipal budget to the city council Monday night, and it includes a sizeable property tax increase for Mebane residents, as well as 6 percent increases in both water and sewer rates.
The $33,059,522 general fund spending plan is based on a property tax rate of 38 cents per $100 valuation; the current year’s tax rate is 47 cents per $100 valuation. The “revenue neutral” level would be 34.21 cents, Rollins reported, but he is proposing an extra 3.79 cents (per $100) above the revenue neutral level.
Included in the general fund budget are 6 percent increases in salaries for all Mebane city employees (at a cost estimated to be $805,488), as well as setting aside another $287,951 for potential merit increases. Rollins described those merit raises as 2.5 percent during the meeting, but finance director Daphna Schwartz later told the newspaper the percentage included is actually 2.75 percent.
Rollins included $2.2 million for new capital expenses. These include six new police cars (at a cost of $413,058); the city had agreed to add funding for three additional school resource officers during the year, and three of the cars are for them.
Another $480,000 was included for an additional parking lot off Woodlawn Road at the city’s community park; the auxiliary lot had been eliminated during initial construction due to its expense, but Rollins said it is now “very, very hard to find a parking space at the community park.”
Other big-ticket capital items include: $363,000 for a new garbage truck; $162,150 for a new dump truck; $130,000 for new service trucks to replace existing ones; $137,000 for a sidewalk along Crawford Street for North First to North Second streets; and $100,000 for new wayfinding and entrance signs along NC 119.
Restricted Capital Reserve Fund: a new fund designated for future projects
Rollins also included a new fund in his proposed budget, one that the council would need to establish.
Rollins is proposing that the equivalent of 3 cents (about $1.26 million) be put aside for three new capital spending projects – a new fire station (estimated to cost $5 million), a new police station (at $15 million), and a new recreation center ($15 million).
In terms of the priority location for the first of two new fire stations that Rollins said the city needs, he gave the council an overview of the status of an eastern station (to be built near the Petro Mart) off Buckhorn Road and a western station (to be built at the entrance to the North Carolina Commerce Park off Trollingwood Road and Senator Ralph Scott Parkway).
Two industries have indicated an intention to donate land at the two locations, but Rollins said neither has yet been consummated with a transfer of title to the city.
He said a decision on which location would get the first station has not yet been made. The design, he said, would be similar to the city’s newest fire station along Mebane Oaks Road.
Each penny on the post-reval tax rate would generate $420,159, Rollins estimated, so the 3 cents set aside for the Restricted Capital Reserve Fund would have about $1.26 million during its first year.
Rollins emphasized that the idea behind the restricted or proprietary fund is that it be carefully guarded against being raided for other purposes. It would save the city financing costs over time, he said.
Councilman Jonathan White suggested that residents should be vocal about their reaction to the new budget with its hefty tax increase. In particular, White questioned whether residents are really interested in having a recreation center with a pool, one of the two, $15 million future expenditures Rollins is designating for the Restricted Capital Reserve Fund.
We need to know whether “that’s what the community wants,” he said.
He summarized that the city “cannot do these [capital] projects without a tax increase.”
Mebane residents, White suggested, need to answer the question: “Are you willing to have a tax increase?”
Councilman Tim Bradley added that “there’s a lot of capital expenditures coming down the road.”
Bradley also suggested that the property tax increase was “more of an adjustment” than an increase, and said that some residents would see an increase while others may not.
Council member Katie Burkholder said the stations for police and fire departments are “not just ‘wants,'” but are very much future needs.
Utility portion of the budget
As with all municipalities, the utility portion of the city’s administration is separate from the general fund and is to be self-supporting.
Rollins in proposing a $11.89 million budget for utilities; he included a 6 percent increase in both water and sewer rates. Garbage and recycling fees would remain unchanged at $8.00 per month.
Rollins pointed to the fact that among nearby towns and cities, only Burlington’s water and sewer rates are lower than Mebane’s – although that difference may also change with increases (5 percent) recommended by that city’s manager the same night. [See separate story.]
As an illustration, Rollins said that the average water user who used 4,000 to 5,000 gallons per month would have an increase of about $3.56 per month.
Among new employees, he proposes a new meter and sampling supervisor, whose salary and benefits would total $111,172; and an additional person for the department at $85,850.
The city council set a public hearing for June 5 to consider the manager’s budget.
Read our editorial views on the Mebane and Burlington budget proposals: https://alamancenews.com/whopping-city-tax-increases-proposed-in-burlington-mebane/