The City Manager has given the Commissioners a proposed budget; to begin July 1. The proposed budget calls for an unprecedented 8 percent raise for city employees instead of a normal 2-3 percent, a hike in water rates, plus a new $15 annual vehicle fee. I say none of these things are justified. A hearing for public comment is on June 2 at 7 p.m. Commissioners need to hear from you or they may think you don’t care.
8 percent raise:
We have great city employees with great benefits not available in other jobs. The city says a study by The League of Municipalities shows our pay is below average and needs a major jump. The “League” is an organization of all NC cities and exists to benefit the cities; and not us taxpayers. In some ways it’s like a union for cities. It’s not a source I’d trust for a fair study and they don’t even make them public.
But, the State Treasurer’s website is unbiased, public, and shows info on all North Carolina cities. Each city sends in standardized reports. The Treasurer analyzes these and results are put online. Those results show our city already spends a much bigger part of its budget on salaries than others do. The city has shown us nothing to back up its claim that we underpay. So why a major raise 3 or 4 times normal when facts say we already pay more of our budget for personnel than others?
The State uses the per capita method so each town is measured the same way. Take a look:
Mount Airy per capita for salaries $552
State average for all cities $412
Averages for our size cities are even lower. Years ago the state measured city personnel expense by percentage of budget. We were much above average in that measurement, too. Ours was 58 percent last year but the proposed budget would bump it to 61 percent. It seems we come out above average on salary expense both ways.
High personnel expense has been questioned in the past and the city’s excuse is very weak. They refer to an old study that claims our population swells to 100-150,000 each day as people come into town. That would be almost like Autumn Leaves every day. Really? Does anyone believe that?
Since four years ago our water/sewer department has been paying an average $1 million less in loan payments each year. Revenue has grown as well. So that’s more than an extra million available every year to replace old lines, etc. the ater/sewer department is entirely separate from all else the city does and has its own separate budget of about $5.5 million. It also has its own cash surplus of $4.2 million. So why the 4 percent water rate hike? Of course that hikes the sewer fee too so we’ll pay 8 percent. What happened to the extra $1+ million per year for the past 4 years?
$15 auto fee
Our general fund (GF) includes everything except water/sewer and is even more flush with cash. The GF surplus cash is over $12 million which is more than it normally takes to run the city for a year. We have a surplus of over 100 percent while state average of all other cities is only 47 percent. We could go a year without any new money coming in. Few if any towns have anything like this cash surplus. So why on earth do we need a new $15 fee on each auto?
Inflated budget/ over taxing:
Years of observing city operations tell me the budgets are clearly inflated. Each year we’re told the budget is “tight” and often will need using millions from surplus to make it. Yet most years we spend nothing from surplus and actually add more large amounts to it. The city has years of history on what it actually takes to operate but the budgets continue to call for much more. We have a huge cash surplus from years of the city taking in more taxes and fees than it spends running the city. We’re overtaxed! Taxes may not be as high as they were many years ago but we’re still above average and the city is still taking more from citizens than it needs to operate … Yet the city now asks for more!
The next commissioners meeting, June 2, includes a public hearing on the budget. Citizens need to attend and hopefully some will speak. Others can comment to commissioners by phone or email. A date for the budget work session will be set at that 6/2 meeting and that’s when the commissioners work out details. A vote on the final budget is expected at the 6/14 meeting.