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City adopts 2021-22 budget, discusses third quarter financial report

SALISBURY — With one “no” vote cast due to proposed fee increases, council members adopted a $47 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that doesn’t raise taxes and grants raises for police and public works.

The upcoming budget would begin July 1 and include nearly $1.5 million in savings from the current fiscal year. Included is a 6.5% pay increase for sworn police officers and 5% to 15% raises for certain public works positions. A total of $258,000 is dedicated for “special projects” to further evaluate recruiting and retention issues among other departments. A total of $130,189 in the general fund will cover a 1% increase in the city’s match to all employees’ 401(k) accounts, except for sworn officers. The increase lifts the match from 3% to 4%, which amounts to $4,622 in the stormwater fund, $47,145 in the water and sewer fund and $5,071 in the transit fund.

The budget will not require a property tax rate increase, staying at 71.96 cents per $100 in property valuation.

Council member Tamara Sheffield cast the lone “no” vote, citing disapproval for the budget’s inclusion of a 2% increase in water and sewer prices and a $1.15 increase in residential curbside waste collection. Additionally, an 8-cent increase to stormwater fees was adopted to offset inflation and fund stormwater projects aimed at reducing flooding and pollution in compliance with the existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

“I couldn’t in good conscience  agree to agree on things that I just couldn’t align with. That would be morally wrong for me to do,” Sheffield said. “And to feel like coming out of a pandemic year when people still aren’t back to work, and things aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and then sit here and hear again that in quarter three we’re doing really good and we do have the money that’s coming in.”

Sheffield said she couldn’t justify raising stormwater fees and water and sewer fees to a combined 4%.

“I was No. 1 in my organization last year in the job that I do, and I didn’t get a 4% (raise). I didn’t even get close to that,” she said. “So the folks who rent who aren’t getting those kind of raises, this is an expense for them.”

Sheffield is an account manager for Pepsi’s Frito-Lay branch.

Also at the meeting, Finance Director Shannon Moore presented council members with the third quarter financial report for the current fiscal year. As of March, 80% of revenues have been collected and 66% of expenses have been paid in the general fund. A historical three-year trend shows the fund receiving an average of 77% in revenue at this same time. Moore said none of the accounts in the general fund have exceeded the expected 75% rate of budget by the third quarter.

Property and sales tax account for the largest revenues in the fund. Moore said though $20.15 million in property tax collections was adopted for the current fiscal year, $20.42 million has been received by the end of the third quarter, or March. That collection amounts to just under the 97% rate adopted for the 2020-21 budget.

From October to March, the city has received $4.74 million in sales tax revenue, or 62% of what was budgeted, which is better than the three-year historic amounts. Additionally, the amount of sales tax received each month of 2019-20 increased during the 2020-21 fiscal year, with a 22% increase seen from sales in December 2020 and January 2021, respectively. A total of $7.65 million has been adopted in sales tax revenue for the 2021-22 budget.

“That is very good news going into the pandemic versus what we had actually planned for the year,” Moore said.

Additionally, cemetery revenues have exceeded the budget by $54,000. While $50,000 was budgeted for the online sale of surplus assets, a total of $225,000 has been received from those sales to date. However, the general fund is projected to lose up to $80,000 in the Parks and Recreation Department, along with $43,000 in revenue from the Powell Bill funneled from the state and $50,000 from interest earnings.

In the stormwater fund, 75% of revenues and 50% of expenses have been reached as of March. Moore said some large, carry-forward projects in the stormwater fund have not yet been paid for, which accounts for the low rate of expenses exhausted in the fund.

The water and sewer fund has reached 79% of revenues and 70% of expenses.

The transit fund has reached 38% of revenues and 50% of expenses, and all CARES funding has been exhausted. Since the city’s transit continues to waive fees for riders and federal funds weren’t received for the 2020-21 fiscal year, Moore anticipates a deficit of $81,515 total in the transit fund.

Moore said a total of $2,933 in donations has been received for the Share2Care program, which was adopted last year to assist residents behind on their utility payments due to the pandemic.

In the Fibrant fund, which is for the city’s fiber-optic network, 69% of revenues, or $2.61 million, and 74% of expenses have been reached. Historically, the fund has reached 75% by this time in the fiscal year. The city has also received $407,157 in revenues from its lease with Hotwire, which amounts to a net positive in cash flow.

As of March, the city reports 5,728 total subscriptions to Hotwire across 3,487 customers, excluding accounts associated with the city.

City Manager Lane Bailey has proposed $500,000 be pulled from the general fund each fiscal year after 2021-22 to help offset the city’s fiber-optic network debt and pay it off more quickly. With a faster debt payoff, Bailey estimates the city will save up to $4 million and reduce debt by about 20%, which will free up more money in future fiscal years.

Also at the meeting:

• Council members approved two amendments to the 2020-21 fiscal year budget: $27,452 in grants and donations to the Public Art Committee and $22,348 in grants and donations for the Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial Project. A donation of $5,000 from the Salisbury-Rowan Community Foundation was granted to both entities along with $3,000 from St. Luke’s Foundation for the Public Art Committee. A donation totaling $8,712 from the Rowan Arts Council and $8,750 from local colleges, businesses and sponsors were dedicated to the Dixonville project.

• Council members approved an amendment to the city code to restrict parking at all times on the north side of the 1000 block of Holmes Avenue.

• Council members approved the use of a right-of-way in the 100 block of West Council Street for work being performed at 132 N. Main St. until July 9 to repair the basement access hatch, as well as a request for approving the right-of-way in the 100 block of North Church Street for work being performed at 200 W. Innes St. until July 9 is also on the consent agenda.

• Council members appointed Evelyn Uddin-Kahn and Bill Clements to the Human Relations Council, along with Lilliana Spears and Yvonne Dixon to the Planning Board. After struggling to fill a vacant ETJ seat on the Planning Board, members also approved a resolution requesting the county to make the appointment. If county commissioners don’t appoint someone within 90 days, City Attorney Graham Corriher said the city could appoint a member of the county outside of the ETJ.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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