Elkin water rates to increase

By Wendy Byerly Wood - wbyerly-wood@elkintribune.com
Elkin commissioners and town department heads meet for a budget worksession in town hall May 1. - Wendy Byerly Wood | The Tribune

When preliminary budget items were presented to the Elkin commissioners during a May 1 workshop, there was no proposed tax rate or water rate increase, but to make the general fund balance, it was going to take more than $200,000 from the fund balance.

By the end of the meeting, the amount needed to balance the general fund had decreased, and the commissioners had voted to direct the town manager to include a water rate hike in both the base rate and the volumetric rate.

They also had directed Town Manager John Holcomb to change the special outside agency contributions, providing no funding for the Elkin Rescue Squad until documentation shows a need and adding Grace Clinic as a beneficiary of town money.

The workshop was a reconvened meeting of the Elkin Board of Commissioners’ April 9 meeting in order to give guidance to the town staff on how to proceed with the 2018-19 budget. During the workshop, several formal actions were taken in regard to the budget.

One of those actions was to approve a new meter tampering fee of $500 and pursuing criminal prosecution against people who turn their own water back on when it’s been disconnected by the town due to lack of payments. The commissioners noted that when people reconnect themselves and use the water, it is theft of town water.

A motion also was made and passed unanimously to adopt recreational fee changes for summer day camp, youth sports and tennis and swim lessons.

The commissioners voted to designate $50,000 from the general fund for master plan development based on the recently passed strategic plan, with plans to raise the rest of the funding needed through private contributions.

Also from the general fund, seven outside agencies will receive taxpayer funding through special allocations, following a split vote from the commissioners. Elkin Jaycees will receive $4,000 to help offset the cost of fireworks at the Freedom Fest in July. Others being funded include Foothills Arts Council at $11,000; Elkin Valley Trails Association at $16,100; Surry County Economic Development Partnership at $15,000; Watershed NOW at $1,500; and the Northwestern Regional Library at $85,868, with $10,000 of that funding coming from the Lillard Fund as in prior years.

When Holcomb presented the agency requests to the board, which included $12,000 from the Elkin Rescue Squad and $3,000 from Grace Clinic, he recommended funding the squad at $10,000 and not funding the clinic.

“My feeling is it is not the job of a municipality to be involved in health care, and I think they can raise money through the private sector,” the town manager said of his recommendation about the clinic.

But the four of the commissioners felt differently about the two recommendations.

Commissioner Skip Whitman said he didn’t feel like the rescue squad was in need for funding, and was disappointed the board had not seen copies of the squad’s financial statements to see where they were using the town’s allocation. He also pointed out the large amount of funding that comes from WIFM’s annual golf tournament benefiting the squad and questioned whether the squad actually needed any of the town’s money to balance its budget.

“In my opinion, what Grace Clinic does is more important than the rescue squad,” Whitman said. “I don’t have a clue about the financial status of the squad, where they are and where the money is spent. We’ve never had anything other than how many calls they go on.

“I’m proposing it go to zero, if they’re financially sound,” he said.

While Commissioner Tommy Wheeler was the lone vote against changing the allocations to nothing for the squad unless documentation shows a need, he acknowledged that “the rescue squad is financially sound and not hurting.”

Commissioner Cicely McCulloch said she would like to see allocations be made when they are for specific requests, such as the trail development for the remainder of what will lie in the town limits or the fireworks for the Jaycees. She said she didn’t feel the squad’s request was specific enough.

“If we are going to give to social services programs like ARK and Grace Clinic, those are usually county government’s role, do we want to go there?” asked Mayor Sam Bishop.

Commissioner Terry Kennedy also said in that case, the argument could be made, should the town be funding Foothills Arts Council programming.

But Whitman said if a town doesn’t feel the social programs of a county are filling a need within the community, then it is within the town’s right to make sure its residents are adequately served.

The board unanimously designated $3,000 for Grace Clinic.

Whitman did make a motion to fund the arts council at $9,000 instead of the requested $11,000, but the motion died due to lack of a second. He said his intentions were to make up the $2,000 difference out of his personal finances.

In years past, prior to the creation of the Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority, the town had made a number of transfers from the general fund to the utilities fund to balance the budget, covering losses in sewer costs. But this year, the commissioners are wanting to pay the general fund back for part of that.

The water fund is seeing a surplus of revenue this year, and the YVSA will be making its first contribution to pay back a loan from the town to help get it started. The sewer authority is expected to pay Elkin just more than $24,000, which the commissioners are wanting to put in the general fund.

With that funding and a couple of other adjustments to what Holcomb had in his proposed budget, the commissioners were able to decrease the amount needed from fund balance to just less than $130,000.

While the town does have a surplus in the water fund expected of about $125,000, the commissioners recognized the need to pad its utility coffers in preparation for future infrastructure projects such as the raw water line extension project that is taking place and a water tank that needs replacing soon.

“We need $11 million in water infrastructure work,” said Whitman.

“If we want downtown to be everything everyone says they want it to be, then it’s going to take water,” Kennedy said.

Holcomb said Elkin is thinking positively, because it’s putting back money each year for future projects where a lot of towns aren’t and are going to be hurting. “We need to keep that as a procedure going forward,” he said.

In a unanimous decision, the commissioners voted to increase the minimum base rate $1 to $16.50 and increase the volumetric rate $1 to $7 per 1,000 gallons used. The base rate had not changed in four years and the volumetric rate had not increased in six years, Holcomb reported.

The town’s 55 cent per $100 valuation tax rate is expected to remain in tact.

Holcomb will take the commissioners’ actions and input them into the budget before having further discussions on the 2018-19 final budget. On May 14, the Main Street Advisory Board is appearing before the commissioners for budget requests as well, and the final budget cannot be approved until a public hearing is held, which is scheduled for June.

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

Elkin commissioners and town department heads meet for a budget worksession in town hall May 1.
https://www.elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_budget-formatted.jpgElkin commissioners and town department heads meet for a budget worksession in town hall May 1. Wendy Byerly Wood | The Tribune
Commissioners work on 2018-19 budget

By Wendy Byerly Wood