Mount Airy’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year could contain good news for city residents — a 4-cent cut in the property tax rate — but this won’t be known for sure until tonight.
City Manager Barbara Jones is scheduled to unveil the 2014-2015 spending plan today during a 7 p.m. meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
While the prospects of a tax cut will be unknown to citizens until then, the same apparently is true of council members.
“I haven’t seen it,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said Wednesday afternoon of the proposed budget. But Cawley, a member of a board finance committee that helps plan the package, seemed hopeful about the 4-cent reduction.
“We gave Barbara, at the retreat, a directive to prepare for a 4-cent tax cut,” Cawley said of a city government planning session held during the winter. “And to the best of my understanding, that’s what she’s trying to do.”
Mount Airy’s property tax rate is now 52 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The board’s directive to the city manager for a 4-cent decrease conformed to a pledge commissioners made in 2011 to reduce taxes by 10 cents over a five-year period, or a rate of 2 cents annually.
This was interrupted when the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget was adopted. It contained no tax cut, reflecting a countywide property revaluation at that time which reduced real estate values and led to some citizens paying less anyway.
The property tax rate for the 2011-2012 fiscal year had been cut by 2 cents, and for the present (2013-2014) fiscal year, there was another 2-cent cut.
Cawley said the question now is the revenue picture for the next fiscal year that starts on July 1 weighed against expenditures expected, and how much room for tax relief will result.
“I think we’ll get some — I don’t know to what extent,” he said. “I’ve pushed for four cents because I believe it was important for us to do what we said we were going to do.”
Cawley added that one hopeful sign pointing to a possible 4-cent property tax decrease involves the budget situation for this fiscal year. The package included plans for dipping into the municipality’s general fund, or savings, partly to cover a 2 percent raise for city employees.
“The plan for this year was that we would dip into it for a little more than two million dollars,” Cawley said of the reserve fund, “and to my knowledge we have not dipped into it.” Less than two months are left in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
Cawley said the city manager has taken a conservative approach and praised her handling of Mount Airy’s finances in this manner, but said it sometimes obscures the bottom line.
“What we’re trying to do is to figure out a realistic number of what our expenditures are and what our revenues are,” the finance committee member said. “Because sometimes the expenditures seem to be a little bit inflated out of caution, and our revenues, we’re never quite sure about…so we take a conservative approach to those.”
Cawley added, “It’s a juggling act, and with any good city budget it probably will be.”
After the proposed budget is unveiled tonight, the commissioners are expected to set a public hearing for June 5, when citizens can weigh in on the spending plan.
The city’s general fund budget for this fiscal year is $12,973,817. When adopting it in 2013, officials also approved a separate water-sewer budget totaling $5,768,826.
Among additional agenda items for tonight’s meeting are:
• A quasi-judicial hearing regarding expansion plans for an automotive business at 1656 Park Drive owned by Bobby Koehler of Pilot Mountain. The hearing relates to plans by Koehler to construct a 5,000-square-foot building to store wreckers for the existing business known as Ultimate Towing and Recovery.
Quasi-judicial hearings are required when conditional-use zoning issues are involved. This occurred in 2011 when the 2.04-acre site on Park Drive property was rezoned from a residential to conditional-use B-3 (Neighborhood Business) classification to accommodate the automotive business. Quasi-judicial hearings operate similar to court trials, including citizens who plan to speak being sworn in beforehand.
• Two public hearings regarding changes in wording to the city’s historic district guidelines, which appear largely cosmetic.
• Recognition of Rogers Realty & Auction Co. as part of a regular city government program honoring older local businesses.
• A public forum during which citizens may address any municipal government topic.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.