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Landis board gets first look at budget that decreases town’s residential electric rates

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

LANDIS — Town Manager Diane Seaford on Monday presented town aldermen with key highlights of the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year budget, which includes no new taxes and a 1-cent reduction in residential electric rates.

Seaford and town officials are working to make additional changes to the budget before a final version is presented for public comment and formally adopted in June. Despite a financially challenging year and a conservatively planned 2020-21 budget, revenues have trickled in better than anticipated, providing enough wiggle room for cost-of-living adjustments for town employees, reduced debt, the implementation of a performance review system and reduced electric rates.

Seaford said the 1-cent electric rate reduction for residential customers will result in $327,217 of lost revenue in the Electric Fund. However, “demand is healthy,” growing, and expected to make up for that reduction. That’s also without a nearly $1 million annual rebate from ElectriCities during the current fiscal year.

For the 2020-21 fiscal year budget, the town budgeted $4.06 million in general fund expenses, $2.19 million in water and sewer fund expenses, $98,500 in stormwater fund expenses and $6.68 million in the electric fund expenses.

For the upcoming fiscal year, the budget proposes $4.01 million in general fund expenses, $2.04 million in water and sewer fund expenses, $107,787 in stormwater fund expenses and $5.86 million in electric fund expenses. In the general fund, Seaford said changes to salaries and benefits for town employees account for the bulk of savings. Additionally, the town saved some money by splitting public safety salaries between Director Zachary Lechette and Assistant Director Kevin Young.

In the electric fund, Seaford said an additional $100,000 is needed in the 2021-22 fiscal year to upgrade current electric lines as well as the purchase of additional services in the amount of $119,000 due to increased demand.

In the stormwater fund, the increased balance is primarily attributed to $25,000 needed for a stormwater plan.

To address the issue of a high turnover rate and loss of several employees over the last year, Seaford suggests a 2% cost-of-living adjustment and 3% potential merit increase beginning in October. The current turnover rate sits at 17.5%, and Seaford said seven employees have left since July 2020. She suggests providing these financial incentives in an effort to retain town employees. The cost-of-living adjustment amounts to an additional $58,000 in the general fund, while the merit increase will cost up to $60,000. Seaford said department heads will be able to determine whether staff are eligible for a pay raise up to 5%, with hopes that pay increases will average to 3% across the board.

Human resources officer Amber Levi said the new merit raise program is being implemented into the new payroll system.

Mayor Pro Tem Ashley Stewart asked if there are reasons the town is seeing such high turnover. Levi attributed it to a lack of job advancement opportunities and better pay in surrounding municipalities. Seaford added that she believes employees have taken the brunt of the town’s recent years of turmoil, but she said she’s optimistic employees now have stability and support.

It’s estimated that the cost of turnover is $27,000 per position.

“It’s definitely a big cost to us when someone leaves or we have to replace them,” Stewart said.

Seaford presented some expense changes, including the end of some debts. In the current fiscal year, the town was able to use $316,682 to pay for past purchases of several new police vehicles, a fire truck and a garbage truck. Seaford said she will present aldermen with a budget ordinance in the near future to reflect those payoffs in the 2020-21 fiscal year budget and said the debt payoff reduces the town’s annual payments by $88,000.

Seaford proposes $65,000 in capital for the town’s recreation department to cover the costs of a new cabin and playground at Lake Corriher Wilderness Park. The department will also look into grants to help fund some of these expenses.

The 2021-22 budget proposes a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to pave the town’s most critical streets, for a total cost of $450,000.

The town is also proposing some new positions and position shifts, including three new firefighters, the shift from one part-time recreation position to full-time and a position intended to split the duties between electric services and water services. That person will assist with daily readings and utility cutoffs.

There are a few increases proposed for the upcoming budget. Seaford said the town is considering a rate increase for those using water and sewer services outside the town’s limits. Additionally, residents who currently have two trash cans instead of just one will be subject to a $2 increase in monthly services.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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