Budget may expand due to state moves

First Posted: 6/15/2009

Mount Airys budget might be boosted slightly rather than gutted as earlier feared by recent state actions, the city manager said Monday.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is slated to approve the 2009-10 spending package for the municipality during a meeting Thursday at 7 p.m.
That timetable earlier had come into question due to financial uncertainties in Raleigh, where the N.C. General Assembly has been struggling to balance the state budget in ways that officials feared would negatively impact Mount Airy and other localities.
At a budget workshop on May 28, city officials had considered delaying final action on Mount Airys spending plan for the next fiscal year until the last possible minute June 30, one day before it goes into effect because of the uncertainties in the state capital.
Recent movement in Raleigh, however, has been more favorable toward North Carolinas localities than harmful, Mount Airy City Manager Don Brookshire said Monday afternoon. Brookshire said he was providing that assessment with a degree of caution since there were still two legislative days left before the commissioners are scheduled to vote.
Yet for now, it looks as if local officials will not be forced to take unusual actions such as adopting an interim budget in reaction to General Assembly votes.
That positive outlook was not the case earlier this month, according to the city manager, who said several disturbing elements had emerged.
What he called the biggest thing involved a proposal by state lawmakers to force local law enforcement officers to pay $250 initially and $100 annually to meet state-mandated training requirements. Members of the House of Representatives dropped that proposal on Thursday when they considered at least 20 budget amendments aimed at increasing revenue in various ways.
Brookshire said along with police, that funding issue also would have affected the training city firefighters receive at Surry Community College and represented a significant expense to the city.
Instead of requiring Mount Airy to juggle its budget to make up for state cuts, the citys finances could be bolstered overall by proposals in Raleigh as they now stand, according to Brookshire, citing an increase in the state sales tax that would provide more money for localities.
A quarter-cent hike in the sales tax was among a tax package approved by the full House of Representatives which calls for $800 million in new taxes. It also includes increased income taxes for higher wage earners, additional levies on liquor and adding digital downloads to the sales tax base.
The city manager said that if the package receives final approval from the Senate and governor by a July 1 deadline, it would provide Mount Airy with a modest increase in revenues at best. But local officials have indicated that they would welcome proposals that dont cause sales, gasoline tax or similar proceeds to be lost here.

No Local Tax Hike
The $11.6 million general fund budget that the city commissioners will consider Thursday night proposes a one-cent drop in the property tax rate from this fiscal year, to 58 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Also, no increase in water and sewer rates is included in a separate budget for the municipalitys utility operation that totals slightly more than $6 million.
A 2-cent property tax cut also is forecast for property owners in the citys Municipal Service District. An extra tax is levied in that district, which includes the downtown area, to cover additional services provided there.
The delaying of major equipment purchases and projects is allowing Mount Airy to balance its budget in a tight financial time, along with halting general cost-of-living and merit raises for municipal employees. In addition, the 2009-10 spending plan funds five fewer positions than this year, and city 401k contributions to all employees except for law enforcement personnel will be suspended for one year.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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