Budget time, detailed discussions among Blowing Rock Commissioners, Mayor and Staff

Budget time, detailed discussions among Blowing Rock Commissioners, Mayor and Staff
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blowing rock budget workshop
Town Manager Ed Evans, center, discusses budget item with Finance Director Nicole Norman, right. That’s Commissioner Virginia Powell in the foreground, with Commissioner Jim Steele partially visible to the left of Powell.

By David Rogers. May 19, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC– Sewers and sidewalks — and the expected one-cent increase in property taxes to cover the Community Improvement Bonds’ interest — were early action items in the 2018-19 budget discussions among members of Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners, Mayor, Town Manager and Finance Director.  During the course of the all-day meeting, the Council members reviewed the town staff’s recommended budget.  Those discussions will lead to the Commissioners’ passage of a proposed budget, which will be subject to a public hearing and potential modifications before becoming final for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018.

COVER IMAGE: Commissioners Sue Sweeting (left) and Virginia Powell listen intently to a point made by Commissioner Jim Steele during the budget workshop. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

Town Manager Ed Evans was quick to acknowledge Mayor Charlie Sellers for an idea saving the town as much as $70,000 a year and reducing its carbon footprint at the same time.  Evans explained to the Commissioners that each week the Town spends more than $1,350 sending truckloads of sewage down to Lenoir.  “Only two percent of the stuff is ‘solids’,” he said. “I have a problem with spending some $70,000 a year trucking water to Lenoir.”

I have a problem spending $70,000 each year to truck what is 98% water down to Lenoir.

blowing rock budget workshopEvans went on to share Sellers’ idea of the Town investing in a centrifuge that separates the solids. The amount of the capital investment in acquiring the centrifuge would be approximately $200,000 and the estimated cost recovery to the town is estimated at six years. When asked about the usable life of the centrifuge, Sellers replied, “My understanding is 12-15 years, maybe longer.”

Commissioner Virginia Powell added, “And we reduce the carbon footprint of the town (by not having to truck as much material down the mountain every week).”

Connecting onto revelations first revealed at the January retreat about the deteriorating condition of the water and sewer plant, Evans also observed that the recommended budget also includes $100,000 to begin plant improvements.  He noted that the total cost of repairs and upgrades are estimated to be over $1 million, but they didn’t have to be done all at once.  Commissioner Jim Steele compared the Town’s ongoing infrastructure needs to capital requirements in the private sector of business. “Each year money should be set aside in the budget to help pay for future needs because over time things wear out or become obsolete and you have to replace them.”

Evans, who is recovering from recent knee surgery, used his personal experience having to use a walker for a few days to navigate the streets of Blowing Rock. He suggested that the sidewalk on the library and police station side of Park Ave. be completely redone from Main St. to Wallingford, including curb and gutter and addressing problems related to “the wall sticking out” by the police station.

blowing rock budget“My experience underlines the idea that we have several areas in town that are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” the town manager reported.  “You mean like on Sunset Dr.?” Powell asked rhetorically, as everyone around the table smiled.

Evans was careful to suggest that the funding for the proposed sidewalk, curb and gutter improvements should come from the sales tax bonus the town receives from County’s recent year calculations more heavily weighting ad valorem (property values) vs. per capita (population). “We can never take for granted that those monies will be there from year to year, so those funds should be used for special projects.”

You mean like on Sunset Drive?

In past years, the Town Council budget workshops have usually consumed three half days of discussion. This year’s format was designed to get it all done more efficiently, in one full day that ran from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.

Evans provided the Council members with highlights of the major points of discussion before they got into a page by page “deep dive” into the line items.  The recommended budget document was comprised of 110 pages, mostly consisting of spreadsheet printouts of historical actual budgets, the 2017-18 adopted budget and the 2018-19 recommended budget.

Blowing Rock News was unable to stay for the vast majority of the “deep dive” discussions, but other miscellaneous budget items that received attention:

  • The recommended budget requires no appropriation of monies from the General Fund
  • Included a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) increase in employee wages based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 2.1% for all employees and Council members
  • Included funding for one additional police officer in the position of School Resource Officer.
  • Included a 25 cent increase per 1,000 gallons for water and sewer
  • Increasing minimum billing fee for water and sewer from $44 to $45
  • Significant percentage increases in various rental fees for Clubhouse, American Legion Building
  • Prospectively doubling the Cemetary plot fees for taxpayers and non-taxpayers
  • Replacing various town vehicles and equipment in Police, Street, Parks and Recreation, and Water/Sewer Plant operations
  • Funding 100% of the second year contract for Short Term Rental Helper (Tourism Development Authority [TDA] paid for 100% of the first year) to monitor short-term rentals
  • Funding an additional day of parking enforcement, bringing the total to four days

The recommended budget also recognized appropriations from the TDA (as revenue items):

  • $10,000 for Middle Fork Greenway
  • $25,000 for Moses Cone Estate
  • $20,000 for a downtown shuttle trial by AppalCART
  • $32,933 for Memorial Park improvements

Again, all items discussed from the recommended budget will lead to the Board of Commissioners’ proposed budget, which will be subject to approval after a public hearing at an upcoming Town Council meeting.

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