Elkin commissioners hear tax rate increase request, special allocations plea

By Wendy Byerly Wood - wbyerly-wood@elkintribune.com
Elkin Rescue Squad Assistant Chief Mike Bovender, left, and Chief Jeff Whitaker explain the squad’s budgetary needs to the Elkin Board of Commissioners Monday night. - Wendy Byerly Wood | The Tribune

Elkin commissioners are weighing several budgeting items including a recommended tax rate increase and a special allocations request. A town airport tenant also proposed a new fund to direct taxes collected from property at the town’s airport.

Municipal Service District tax rate

Laura Gaylord, Main Street and community manager for the town, addressed the board Monday on behalf of the commissioner-appointed Main Street Advisory Board.

The MSAB is tasked with handling the Municipal Service District tax monies. Since the town joined the NC Main Street program 20 years ago, the town of Elkin formed the MSD and set up a 10-cent tax per $100 valuation levied on all downtown properties within the MSD borders.

That tax rate has not been increased since it was implemented, Gaylord explained Monday.

“The Main Street America program focuses purely on the resurgence of downtowns and helps chosen towns put a plan into place to help their small historic business districts come back to life,” said Gaylord in a press release about the MSD funds and how they help downtown.

Two options for how funds are handled are available. One is to set up a nonprofit, and the other is for the funds to operate through the town, which is how Elkin is set up. The town appoints an advisory board which determines how to make the improvements in downtown work within their budget.

Gaylord explained that Elkin’s MSAB members feel they’ve tackled a number of smaller projects they could afford with the money that the 10-cent tax brings in annually, and now they are ready to fund some larger projects.

“Out of 32 towns in the state’s Main Street program, only six towns have a tax rate of 10 cents or less, and those range in 8,000 to 26,000 in population, so there downtowns are larger so they get a larger kitty,” Gaylord told commissioners.

She said the state average is 17.9 cents for an MSD tax rate. The Elkin MSAB is recommending the commissioners increase its MSD tax rate by 5 cents, to 15 cents per $100 valuation.

“That is still 3 cents less than the average,” Gaylord said.

At the 10-cent rate, Elkin brings in $14,500 a year, and with the increase, an additional $7,250 would be collected, she reported.

“The biggest investment this past year by the Main Street Advisory Board was to pay for the benches, tables, planters, bulletin board and supplies needed for the Rock Façade,” Gaylord said in the release.

Also funded were security cameras for the façade, and additional shading for the farmers market shelter.

New projects the MSAB would like to tackle if additional funding is approved by the commissioners target safety concerns, Gaylord said.

“Time has a way of deteriorating roads, sidewalks and parking lots. Businesses change and there will be new occupants in downtown that will need special signage and crosswalks added for child safety,” the release stated. “Back alleys, where basements are now being occupied by new businesses, need paving for customers to safely cross.

“Older public parking lots in the downtown are in need of resurfacing to extend parking lots to downtown merchants, employees and customers on the south side of Main Street,” it stated.

MSAB also wants to work on projects like bump outs and traffic calming measures that coordinate with the new roadway plans by the North Carolina Department of Transportation scheduled for this year.

Before the commissioners make a decision, they requested the town staff reach out to downtown property owners to get their feedback on the proposed tax rate increase.

The first project the MSAB plans to tackle with additional funding will be an improvement project adding landscape islands along the back alley behind East Main Street’s southern businesses, followed by a phase two to repair and pave the pitted alley to the back entrance of The November Room. A third phase would include paving the parking lot to include downtown gateway improvements, which is estimated to cost $53,000.

Elkin Rescue Squad pleads its case

During a budget workshop on May 1, the commissioners decided to provide no funding for the Elkin Rescue Squad without seeing documentation of specific needs and the squad’s budget before making a decision.

Instead the board chose to provide some funding for Grace Clinic, a nonprofit medical clinic which assists patients with no insurance in the tri-county area.

At Monday’s meeting, ERS Chief Jeff Whitaker and Assistant Chief Mike Bovender came to the board with their most recent financial statements and to explain what the town’s special allocation would be used to fund.

The squad is facing replacement of out-of-date radios and personal protective gear for its members over the next three years or more so that all 30 of its members have updated equipment, the officers explained. That will be done purchasing a handful of equipment and gear each year until all of the old has been cycled out.

Last year, the squad was able to purchase a new ambulance to improve response time and available equipment needed on emergency scenes, and it purchased a 70kw generator which will make the squad building on North Bridge Street an option for an emergency shelter when needed.

The squad, as of Monday, had a budget in its general fund of $90,484, and the chiefs explained they are creating a five-year plan to address future needs of the station. Part of that is setting aside some funding for future purchases, such as a rescue truck and building maintenance.

Commissioner Skip Whitman said he doesn’t take issue that the squad’s services are important to the community, but he questioned the town’s place of taking money out of its own fund balance (savings account) to fund an entity which had funding in its own contingency/rainy day fund. He noted that the town has $10 million in capital needs of its own, and has had to take about $600,000 out of its own fund balance to balance the general fund over the last two or three years.

He said he chose at the workshop to fund Grace Clinic because the organization at the time of the budget meeting he felt its financial needs were greater. “It was not meant to denigrate your importance to the community,” Whitman said of the squad’s service.

“It is just difficult for me to make a bank account larger when we’re talking out of our savings account to do it,” he said, noting that the town still will require $153,000 from its fund balance to balance the general fund in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“Everyone knows you do an incredible job,” said Commissioner Terry Kennedy. But he also pointed out that they have downtown requesting money, water rates increasing, a likely increase in sewer rates. “We are managers of the taxpayers’ money. It’s not that you can’t use the money, but we can’t fund everyone the way we would like to.”

Whitman encouraged the squad leaders to come to the town during the year if they find themselves “in a situation where you can’t function or service will be degraded, and I’ll do everything in my power to address it.”

But Commissioner Jeff Eidson wasn’t ready to cut the squad out of the town’s budget allocations completely. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with cutting them to zero,” he said. “I would like us to entertain something between zero and what they requested.”

He said he’d personally commit to helping make up some of the difference between what the town decides to give the squad and what it requested.

After rescinding a motion he made to give the squad $6,000, Eidson instead made a motion the commissioners approved unanimously that the squad leaders bring back a revised request for funding less than the initial $10,000 requested that show the cost of the needed gear and radios as a line item to be funded.

The Municipal Service District tax rate increase and the Elkin Rescue Squad’s request will be considered on June 1 at 1:30 p.m. during another budget workshop. The Elkin Board of Commissioners recessed its Monday night meeting to June 1.

Airport taxes proposal

During the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting, airplane owner David Bents, who houses his plane at the Elkin Municipal Airport, presented for information a proposal he plans to take to the Surry County commissioners.

He explained that there are two airports in the county, the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport and the Elkin Municipal Airport, but only the airport in Mount Airy sees support from the county taxpayers.

The owner of airplanes housed at the Elkin facility pay both town and county taxes, but those county taxes don’t come back to Elkin to help with that location, Bents explained.

“I think that is a little lopsided,” he said.

He pointed out needs at the Elkin facility, including a new roof on the community hangar, interior improvements and door repairs on the building.

“I want to propose to the Surry County commissioners that the county taxes levied against aircraft at Elkin go back to the town in the form of a fund to pay for airport repairs and maintenance,” Bents said.

He said he was sharing the proposal with the town first so the leaders wouldn’t feel “blindsided” when it comes before the county.

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

Elkin Rescue Squad Assistant Chief Mike Bovender, left, and Chief Jeff Whitaker explain the squad’s budgetary needs to the Elkin Board of Commissioners Monday night.
https://www.elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_town-meeting.jpgElkin Rescue Squad Assistant Chief Mike Bovender, left, and Chief Jeff Whitaker explain the squad’s budgetary needs to the Elkin Board of Commissioners Monday night. Wendy Byerly Wood | The Tribune

By Wendy Byerly Wood