No tax increase, higher trash fees proposed in Canton
CANTON — Residents in the Canton city limits will not pay more taxes this year, but can expect to pay more in trash fees if the budget proposed by the board of aldermen is approved later this month.
As has been the case the past several years, drafting the upcoming budget wasn't an easy task for recently hired Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss.
"The biggest challenge was learning the process that the town uses to assemble the budget and learning the individual budgets of all the different departments and divisions," he said.
Compared to the budget of $7.1 million for the current fiscal year, the proposed budget is slightly more at $7.7 million, though most of the increase comes from a one-time loan to cover an automated water meter system. Water and sewer fees are not expected to increase appreciably.
The tax rate remains the same at 58 cents per $100 of property valuation and water rates will remain unchanged. Fees for trash services, however, will increase from $9 each month to $10.25 to make up for the loss of the county's refuse allocation, which has been $23,400 the past two years.
If the budget is approved, full-time town employees will receive a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment. Last year, employees were given a flat $750 raise and a flat $500 two years before that.
In an introductory letter of the budget proposal, Hendler-Voss said the town is facing a "multitude of threats to its financial longevity" during today's post-recession economy. He credits part of that to a sluggish property tax base and low business retention downtown. Another reason is the increasing costs of town services as infrastructure and equipment age and the cost of fuel, insurance and healthcare rise.
"Like many other governments in North Carolina, Canton is forced to operate with less while providing the same level of quality services to its citizens," Hendler-Voss said.
However, he notes the town's strengths, such as the proximity to I-40, a historic downtown, competitive real estate market and more, put Canton in a position to attract new investments.
When he came on as manager, Hendler-Voss was concerned about the amount of money that was being used from the general fund to subsidize the recreation budget.
"The recreation fund is subsidized by the general fund at a rate of approximately 80 percent, which is untenable for long term financial stability," Hendler-Voss wrote.
He took this into consideration when drafting the upcoming budget.
"We have reduced that by 54 percent in the budget that's been recommended to the board. That's a significant turnaround and a move in the right direction. Ultimately I'd like to get to a point where we don't have any reliance on the fund balance to balance our normal operating budget," Hendler-Voss said.
Over the next year, he said, staff will be looking at new strategies to increase cost recovery for recreation facilities by making fee adjustments and adding new activities. Some of the ideas include hosting a baseball tournament at the sports complex, showing movies at the Colonial Theatre, adjusting concession prices and offering a family seasonal pass at the pool.
Since the board made the decision to move toward replacing the outdoor pool at the recreation park, the proposed budget includes an appropriation of $50,000 to hire a design consultant to come up with a design and construction drawings for the pool replacement.
"We will use that estimate to develop a funding plan for the project. Right now, we don't have a budget for the construction itself, just for the design services. At the end of the day the services from the consultant will give us a very clear idea of costs for the construction project," Hendler-Voss said.
Another large expense will be for a new street sweeper at a cost of about $180,000, depending on the machine the board chooses. The current street sweeper is more than 15 years old and no longer functions properly. The purpose of the purchase will be to provide street sweeping services daily and achieve one of the board's objectives to improve the town's aesthetic.
The town is also budgeting to borrow $420,000 to purchase automated water meters, which is expected to provide significant savings in 10 years.
"We expect that will be financed and fully funded trough the current operating budget without dipping into any fund balance from the water and sewer fund," Hendler-Voss said.
The proposed budget is posted online at www.cantonnc.com for public viewing. Details of the budget will be discussed at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12.