Elkin starts initial budget discussions

By Wendy Byerly Wood - wbyerly-wood@civitasmedia.com

The preliminary working budget for Elkin for the 2016-17 fiscal year doesn’t include tax or water rate increases, but does include some changes to the fee schedule, if it stays as it was discussed at the commissioners’ first budget workshop May 2.

“There is no change on the property tax right now,” said Town Manager and Finance Director John Holcomb. “That may change depending on what you want to fund.”

To keep tax rates from increasing, it will mean using money from the town’s fund balance, depending on expenditures approved by the commissioners, but the water fund will be self-sustaining without supplementing any general funds to balance the budget for the first time in years, according to the budget information presented by town staff.

Fee schedule changes proposed include eliminating the $50 initial fee for fire inspections, but leaving in place any re-inspection fees and fines. Also, it includes a 50 cent increase to $7.50 per solid waste cart to help offset loss in funds the town has in the solid waste program. The 50 cent addition would allow the program to break even, Holcomb told commissioners.

Other increases in fees would include $5 increase in fees for most youth sport league programs, as well as adding fees for using ball fields during the day and after dark when lights are needed, a fee for dragging and lining a field if it is required and a facility sponsorship fee.

In the water fund, proposed increases include a water tap fee increase at all levels, ranging from a $200 to $550 increase depending on the type and size of tap being installed.

Robert Fuller, public works director, said these increases will help offset the cost of the new electronic taps being installed. Property owners with existing taps will not be assessed a fee for the upgraded taps, but any new taps being installed would be assessed at the new proposed rate.

“These rates are still below the average for this area,” Fuller said. “Especially with the commercial taps, the back-flow regulations are expensive and our labor is minimal. I doubt we even cover our labor.”

Expenditure considerations for the general fund include outside funding requests and capital outlay expenses which are being requested by town department heads.

Allocation requests from outside agencies include:

* a request for $4,000 from the Elkin Jaycees, who were given $3,500 in the 2015-16 fiscal year;

* $10,000 request from the Elkin Rescue Squad, which was given $4,500 in the current year;

* $11,000 request from the Foothills Arts Council, which was given $11,000 this year;

* a request for $15,000 from the Elkin Valley Trails Association, which was allotted $20,000 this year of which just $6,000 has been spent;

* $15,000 request from the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the same as what was allocated this year;

* $1,500 request from Watershed Now, the same as the current year;

* $85,868 for the Elkin Public Library via the Northwest Regional Library System, the same allocation as this year.

Proposed capital outlay expenses requested for the town, not including the $142,368 in requests by outside agencies, includes $1.047,001. Items in that nearly $1.1 million request include a new accounting server for the finance department; paving of the parking lot and driveway around town hall; fire department requests including respiratory protection, protective turnout gear, portable radios, bedroom furniture and lockers for the fire station, a thermal imaging camera and a utility vehicle; storage and salt sheds for the garage; a dump truck to replace a 1992 model; recreation and parks requests including fitness equipment, gym floor replacement which will be partially paid with a contribution from the Elkin Jaycees, gym lighting, painting and new gym divider curtain, park security gator and park culvert repairs; airport projects, which have matching grant funding; and water department requests including a SCADA server upgrade, radio meters to complete the upgrade project, rewash valve and effluent valve conversion, which will be the last two upgrades at the water plant from 1968.

Fire Chief Mike Morton said he has applied for grants for a couple of his capital requests. The fire department, to battle the struggle it is having with personnel shortfalls on calls, also is requesting funding for paid firefighters.

At present, the fire department has three career paid firefighters, one of those being the chief, who work 24 hours on and 48 hours off so the town always has one paid firefighter on duty at the station at all times. Morton’s request is for one additional full-time firefighter and four 12-hour part-time positions. With benefits and hourly pay, the requested amount for those positions is $272,118.

The commissioners, before agreeing to any fire personnel requests, asked to have a special meeting just to discuss fire issues with the chief.

An additional expense of $29,000 is projected as the last part of the town’s portion of funding the phase two of the Heritage Center project, which his in the former Smith Lumber building downtown.

Prior to any of the capital and special allocation requests, the town had $498,259 in the general fund to work with, but with the additional requests, the town would be forced to pull from fund balance, especially with no property tax increase.

Holcomb said the budget also includes a two-percent pay increase for town employees, and a discretionary increase averaging 1 percent increase for employees. He said changes in the finance department which would consolidate some of the finance director duties will save $71,284. The town of Elkin is looking at a health insurance savings due to a 13.5-percent in its health insurance premiums, totaling $43,943 savings.

The next budget workshop for the commissioners is scheduled for May 24.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

By Wendy Byerly Wood


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