Mayor, board discuss proposed budget
The Canton Board of Aldermen is still planning to tweak the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15 after it was presented during a public hearing last week.
The board met an hour-and-a-half before the regularly scheduled board meeting June 12 to further discuss the contents of the proposed budget.
A large portion of the discussion focused on how to approach the cost of living adjustment the town plans to offer full-time employees.
Though the budget proposes a 2.5 percent raise across the board, Mayor Mike Ray pointed out that offering a flat $750 raise would be beneficial to more of the town's employees.
"This would help our lower end payroll people more than the 2.5 percent. In my opinion...I'm concerned to get up our lower end people here to make life a little easier for them. My thoughts were to go with the $750. You are going to help more that need the help that way," Ray said.
Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss suggested the board needs to consider a higher raise for employees who have worked for the town longer and who have gone the extra mile to take education classes or achieve further certification. The 2.5 percent raise would achieve that.
"We need to look after our long-term employees as well," Hendler-Voss said. "You have to be able to attract new employees, but you can't lose those that have all the knowledge."
The mayor also pointed out that long term employees have been grandfathered in to continue receiving insurance benefits for dependents. But newer employees are no longer offered that luxury.
The board discussed looking at the feasibility of making sure every employee receives at least $750 raise, but perhaps a percentage based raise could go to longterm employees.
The board agreed to table the decision on the cost of living adjustment until they can explore the best options to help all employees.
"The board and staff are working together to crunch some numbers on this," Hendler-Voss said during the budget hearing. "This is a complicated process because we want to get it right. We want to make sure that everyone is compensated equitably and that we can afford it."
In a different topic, Ray questioned the need for the police department to build a new firing range at a cost of about $10,000.
For the past 30 years, the department has used a firing range that was built on property owned by the mill. However, Evergreen Packaging recently announced plans to build a new landfill cell where the firing range was located.
The proposed new firing range would be built at the town's old landfill property on Dutch Cove Road.
Police Chief Bryan Whitner, who was in attendance, said it would be beneficial for the department to have its own firing range in town rather than having to travel to a different town, such as Waynesville. If the department used another firing range in a different town, there would likely be a fee and liability constraints, Whitner said.
Officers are currently required to be certified with firearms annually, but having a town firing range would allow officers to train on their own time as well, without having to worry about scheduling a time at another firing range.
Ray argued against spending money to build a new firing range if it is only needed once a year for certification. He pointed out that the money could possibly go toward raises for employees.
The board voted three to one to keep the money in the proposed budget for the firing range, with Alderman Carole Edwards opposed. Ray silently shook his head in disagreement with the vote.
The mayor also expressed concern about financing new water meter readers, which are expected to help efficiency and save money 10 years down the road. He pointed out that the board will probably eventually have to borrow money to rebuild the pool, which is the board's goal.
"I just hate to see larger debt structure sitting on us when I see a couple of other items that we need to budget for," Ray said.
Hendler-Voss said there should be no need to worry as far as the town's debt capacity.
"In terms of debt capacity, we are pretty good and it shouldn't adversely impact us," he said. "As long as we make the debt payments on time with the water meters, we should in no way impact our ability to take out more debt."
The aging water meters, some as much as 30 years old, could mean the town is losing money if they are not being read accurately
The board unanimously agreed to leave the water meter reading equipment purchase in the proposed budget.
About 12 people were in attendance at the budget hearing later that evening and no one spoke for or against the proposed budget.