By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — City council members informally agreed Tuesday to move forward with allocating an additional $480,000 from the 2021-22 general fund for more police salary raises and increased 401K matches for city employees.
City Manager Lane Bailey is proposing an approximate $47 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Since the city saw a nearly $1.5 million surplus in the current fiscal year, council members have directed Bailey to move forward with allocating the savings to balance the budget and include a number of additional priorities not previously funded.
Currently, the general fund is budgeted $1.37 million higher than the current fiscal year. A total of $45.64 million was adopted for 2020-21, while $47 million is proposed for 2021-22. Most of the increase is attributed to police and public works pay increases, special projects within the Planning Department and Development Services such as the Neighborhood/Downtown Revitalization program, streetscape amenities and roof and HVAC projects.
The proposed budget includes 5% pay increases for sworn police officers and 5% to 15% raises for certain public works positions. On Tuesday, Bailey proposed an additional 1.5% raise for sworn officers, which amounts to $92,183. Additionally, he has proposed $258,000 be used in a “special projects” fund to further evaluate recruiting and retention issues among other departments.
The budget now includes an additional $130,189 from the general fund to cover a 1% increase in the city’s match to all employees’ 401K accounts, except for sworn officers. The increase would raise the match from 3% to 4%, which amounts to $4,622 in the stormwater fund, $47,145 in the water and sewer fund and $5,071 in the transit fund.
Bailey said his proposed budget will not require a property tax rate increase, keeping it at 71.96 cents per $100 in property valuation. However, the budget includes a 2% increase in water and sewer prices, which would increase the average bill for a customer using 4,000 gallons by $1.16, as well as a $1.15 increase in residential curbside collection with one waste container and one recycling container. A proposed 8-cent increase to stormwater fees is intended to offset inflation. The stormwater fee increase also would provide funds for stormwater projects to reduce flooding and pollution to maintain compliance with the existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
Council member Tamara Sheffield said she has “very big concerns” with the council’s decision to move forward with the stormwater and water/sewer rate increases. And though she’s happy to see Bell Tower Green Park near completion, the fees associated with renting the park for events is “ridiculous.”
“The great part about that is we’ll be able to walk through it and enjoy it, but no one of a certain means will be able to rent it or use it because the fees,” Sheffield said. “I think the word I wrote outside of the fees for the Bell Tower Green (is) ‘ridiculous.’”
She encouraged the public to review the fee schedule, which begins on page 237 of the proposed budget.
During a May 18 meeting, council members directed Bailey to look into the possibility of refinancing its fiber-optic network debt, which is managed by Fibrant. About $19.5 million in debt remains, and the city is set to pay off that debt in 2029.
But Bailey said refinancing is likely to be frowned upon by the Local Government Commission. Instead, he has proposed $500,000 be pulled from the general fund balance each fiscal year after 2021-22 to help offset the debt and pay it off quicker. That approach accomplishes the same goal with refinancing, which was to save up to $4 million and reduce debt by about 20%, freeing up more money in future fiscal years.
“I think it accomplishes the same thing, which is relief for the tax base,” council member Brian Miller said. “It doesn’t give you all of the savings right off the bat, but it’s better than not doing it at all.”
Mayor Karen Alexander added the city having authority to formally make that decision each fiscal year prevents the potential for penalties that could have incurred due to prepayments after refinancing, the cost of refinancing and involving the LGC. And with the looming potential for inflation, Bailey said a new rate for the debt is “a roll of the dice.”
Bailey said this approach still keeps the general fund at a healthy level, and he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the city’s financial circumstances will improve with the increased issuance of development permits, which contributes to the tax base.
Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins was not present for the meeting due to a family matter. Council members are expected to formally vote on the proposed budget at the June 15 meeting. The public has 24 hours following the meeting to submit any public comments regarding the budget.
Also at the meeting:
• Council members approved the 2021-22 Community Development Block Grant and HOME Action Plan budgets. For the 2021-22 fiscal year, from July 1 to June 30, 2022, the city is receiving $460,870. Of that, $314,360 are CDBG funds and the remaining $146,510 comes from the HOME program. Of the CDBG funds, city staff are suggesting $157,044 be used for the owner-occupied rehabilitation program, $17,569 be dedicated to a Lash Drive sidewalk project, $42,500 be granted to five local public service agencies, $57,032 be earmarked for city staff to administer the programs and $35,740 be used toward the city’s debt at Park Avenue Center. Additionally, part of the CDBG funds include $25,000 in program income from previous years. Following a call for applications, staff are granting $10,000 to Rowan Helping Ministries, $10,000 to Family Crisis Council, $5,000 to Capstone Recovery Center, $7,500 to Meals on Wheels and $10,000 to One Love, Inc.
From the HOME program funds, city staff recommend $108,217 be designated for the owner-occupied rehabilitation program, $30,000 be used for down payment assistance and $8,293 be submitted to the Salisbury Community Development Corporation to administer the programs.
The plan is available for public viewing at salisburync.gov/housing, at the Rowan County Public Library and at city offices.
• Members approved two rezoning requests near Hurley Park. One rezones 7.55 acres containing six parcels adjacent to North Craige, West Henderson, North Caldwell and Hobson streets from general residential and general residential/open space preserve to open space preserve only in preparation of the construction of a central operations center at Hurley Park. The other rezones six parcels on the corner of West Marsh and South Ellis streets from general residential to urban residential and correct the split zoning of two parcels from general residential and historic residential to historic residential only.
• Members authorized Bailey to execute a contract with Iron Horse Development for a Salisbury Paul Bruhn Revitalization Grant in the amount of $150,000 for a project at 121 West Council St.
• Members approved several amendments to the 2020-21 fiscal year budget, including $369,171 to appropriate Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Community Development Block Grant funds; $15,750 to appropriate a Parks and Recreation Hurley Park donation; $100,000 to appropriate grant funds from the Fred Stanback Donor Advised Fund for park improvements; $17,018 to appropriate funds from the North Carolina Alliance of YMCAs for childcare staff expenses incurred from August to November 2020; a $25,000 donation to Parks and Recreation for pickleball courts; a $13,950 donation from The Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation; $2,800 in donations to the Salisbury Police Department and $24,770 to appropriate funds from the Office of Justice Programs/Office for Victims of Crime for a law enforcement-based victim specialist grant.
The council also authorized a $15,288 stormwater grant for improvements to 1931 Sherwood St. as well as another $4,268 stormwater grant for improvements at 1607 North Jackson St.
• Members approved a right-of-way encroachment by Spectrum for the installation of directional bored duct on Filbert Street.
• Members will consider authorizing Bailey to award a contract amounting to $129,800 to Demolition and Asbestos Removal Inc. to complete asbestos abatement services at the former Kesler Mills site. Funds for the project were made available via a $500,000 brownfield grant.
• Members are expected to endorse the Ella Brown Cannon House, located at 202 Fulton St., to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
• Additional boards and commissions appointments were postponed to the June 15 meeting. Members directed City Attorney Graham Corriher to look into the possibility of adjusting the number of seats on the Planning Board to eliminate one of the two required ETJ seats as both have not been filled for at least a few years.