DOBSON — No property tax increase and a hike to sewer fees may be in store for Dobson residents.
Thursday evening Dobson Town Manager Josh Smith presented his recommended budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year to the Dobson Board of Commissioners.
The budget includes a 6 percent increase in general fund expenditures.
“Most of that increase is attributed to a capital purchase and the new parks employee,” explained Smith.
Smith said a new Ford Explorer for the police department is included in the budget as the town works to continue to address its capital needs on an annual basis. The shift away from the Dodge Charger will be new for the department.
“We keep having some issues with the Chargers from a reliability standpoint,” noted Smith.
At a retreat earlier in the year, Police Chief Shawn Meyers told the board one of the department’s vehicles had been used to the point it was no longer deemed safe to take part in a chase. The Explorer, which will cost the town $32,000, will also bring a four-wheel-drive capability the department does not have.
The parks employee was added at the retreat, but is the primary reason for a 49-percent increase in next year’s parks budget. Smith had said the employee was needed to maintain the town’s new park and aid in running the programs offered at the park.
Smith’s proposed budget also includes a 3 percent cost of living adjustment to the salaries of all town employees. A 5 percent one-time merit bonus will also be available for town employees who do well on their performance evaluations.
The increases would grow the town’s general fund expenditures from $2,636,000 in the current fiscal year to $2,808,900 in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.
Smith said though he was aided by some debt service “rolling off” the town’s books, it took some work to balance the budget with the increases to general fund expenditures.
Smith explained he reallocated $30,000 from the water fund, which currently reaps the benefits of $85,000 in revenue from cell tower companies which rent space atop the town’s water tanks to place towers. Since the revenue is not garnered from water fees, the Local Government Commission said the practice isn’t in violation of any laws or common practices among municipalities.
Smith told commissioners the town’s water rates remain among the lowest in the state when compared to municipalities of similar size.
A 5 percent increase to the water fund budget is likely to be offset by increased revenues from providing water service to the Interstates Water and Sewer District, which spans from the Mount Airy city limits west along N.C. 89, just to the other side of I-77.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners recently voted to permanently hand the water service over to the town, which has been providing the water since 2010.
Smith noted a water fee collection rate of 99.7 percent has also aided the town in keeping its water fees low.
The same pay increase and merit bonus will go to employees paid from the water fund, and Smith’s budget proposes to replace 50 water meters and five fire hydrants.
The town is attempting to replace aging meters and hydrants on an annual basis, rather than wait until capital needs grow beyond the constraints of annual budgets to make large infrastructure improvements.
Smith’s budget proposes an 11-percent increase to sewer fund expenditures, which were budgeted at $369,000 in the current fiscal year. The increase is due to another capital purchase.
Once again, Smith noted the town’s low rates, which are below the rates of other area municipalities. The budget proposes a 50-cent increase per 1,000 gallons of water used.
“The increase is necessary to invest into the capital needs of the department,” remarked Smith.
One such capital need is a generator for the waste water treatment plant, a cost of $60,000.
“It’s a big cost, but it’s a cost we need to incur,” explained Smith. “It’s been on the list for a while now. We could have huge environmental issues should we lose power at the plant.”
Smith said $40,000 in debt service rolled off from the sewer fund. Between that, the increase to fees and a $10,000 transfer from the sewer fund reserves the budget has been balanced.
However, he noted there will be other capital improvements the town will have to address in future budget years.
“There are a lot of pump stations we need to fix,” said Smith.
He added the town’s rates are too low for it to receive any grant monies to aid in those projects.
Overall, Smith stated the town’s fiscal situation is quite strong. While the Local Government Commission recommends municipalities maintain a reserve general fund balance equal to at least 8 percent of the town’s annual general fund expenditures. The town has more than 100 percent of general fund revenues in its reserves.
A public hearing on the budget will occur at the town’s next board meeting, which is scheduled for June 23 at 6 p.m.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.