Two local government heads have shown this past week a keen understanding of the need to be frugal in their budgeting process, yet take on the difficult decisions when necessary.
In Mount Airy, City Manager Barbara Jones did what some thought might be unattainable — she presented a budget plan to the commissioners which stayed true to the board’s goal from a year ago to continue cutting the tax burden on city residents, while also fulfilling this year’s board desire to keep services at present levels.
In Pilot Mountain, Town Manager Homer Dearmin suggested the board there add a penny to the tax rate, but that actually represents a decrease in the overall tax burden of town residents, given the drop in property values with the recent countywide property tax re-valuation. To have kept the tax burden at the same level, the Pilot budget proposal would have needed a 2 cent tax increase, to 58 cents per $100 of assess value.
Pilot Mountain also is faced with the worrisome issue of increasing cost for the water and sewer system, combined with a debt-service payment on some work done there, leading Dearmin to ask for what he said amounts to a 5 percent hike in those rates.
In Mount Airy, Jones is suggesting the board leave the tax rate at its present 56 cents per $100 of assess value, but because of that same re-valuation, this will mean an overall drop in tax burden on city residents of about 2.4 percent. Another way to look at her spending plan is in order to keep the same amount of tax money coming in, city commissioners would need to raise rates by a penny.
Given the board’s drop of 2 cents in the rate a year ago, this continues the trend of lowering the city’s tax burden. A year ago the commissioners said their long-term goal was to drop the rate by 10 cents over coming years.
She also calls for no decrease in city services, the No. 1 goal of commissioners at a retreat earlier this year, a small cost-of living raise for city employees, and more than $400,000 set aside for water and sewer capital outlays, including the start of a long-overdue program to replace the city’s antiquated water and sewer structure.
In Pilot Mountain, town residents and businesses will no doubt complain about the projected increase in water and sewer rates, because no one wants to see a cost of living increase. But the town is still paying off the cost of a 1997-98 project, and needs the rate hike to pay that debt service and make the water and sewer fund self-sufficient.
That’s a tough request to put in a budget at this time, but it is good to see a town official willing to do what’s right, even if not necessarily politically expedient.
Now we hope residents of both of those localities will do their part, by speaking out at various public hearings on the budgets, and then we hope the commissioners in both localities approach the task of forming the final budget with as much care as these two managers have done.