Commissioners consider raising solid waste fees

PILOT MOUNTAIN — During a budget workshop held on June 16, the Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners worked to find a compromise that will serve the public needs. With Mayor Dwight Atkins, Commissioner Linda Needham, Commissioner Cordie Armstrong, Commissioner Kim Quinn, and Town Manager Amanda Reid in attendance the board reviewed information about line items that could be adjusted to bring the budget into balance.

The budget, as proposed in May, contained a property tax increase of four cents as well as expenditures of $54,755 above the expected revenues. Deciding what costs can be cut and what revenues can be increased to eliminate the variance without overburdening the citizens has been the board’s main objective.

A new proposal from the staff reduces the tax increase by half a cent and shows a balance in revenues and expenditures.

Trash pick up fee hikes

The sanitation and solid waste expense was a main topic of discussion. The town pays $10.68 monthly per household for trash pickup, according to Reid. Each household is charged only three dollars for the service each month on their water/sewer bill. The discrepancy amounts to a $46,547 deficit in the budget.

The new recommendation is to raise the rate to $8. However, the commissioners did not agree.

Commissioner Quinn strongly suggested raising the rate to $10. “It would only cost each home $84 per year,” she said.

Atkins and Needham wanted to keep the price lower. “If we were not raising anything else, that would be different,” said Atkins.

“I never take pleasure in raising taxes or fees, but if that’s where it needs to be, that’s where it needs to be,” said Commissioner Armstrong.

The group, still undecided, was leaning toward a compromise of $7. Reid pointed out that the difference will need to be made up elsewhere.

Other budget items

A few capital expenses have been worked into the budget. “We have deferred capital cost for so long that they are beginning to pile up,” said Reid. She expects numerous vehicles and pieces of equipment to need replacement within the next couple years.

According to Reid, a 1986 backhoe which is out of OSHA compliance needs to be replaced, and a mini excavator needs to be purchased for use by the public works department. The town now rents an excavator, which is more costly in the long run. Darian Goins, of the public works department, explained that the two pieces of equipment perform different essential functions of the department.

The board discussed various financing options for the backhoe and excavator purchases. Extending the financing from a two-year contract to a five-year contract would lower the annual cost, but increase the overall cost due to interest rates. Exact numbers were unknown during the meeting.

Atkins requested hard numbers for two- and five-year financing on each piece separately and together to assist the board in making its decision.

Another possible savings for the town involves the library funding. In the 2014-15 budget, the library received $62,440. The proposed budget of $31,000 is a significant cut. “We are pretty bare bones at this point,” said Head Librarian Anna Nichols.

Stocks purchased for the library have recently been sold for $30,000. Using the proceeds from the sale to offset the the town’s library allocations over the next two years would help keep the library funding consistent while lowering the town’s cost by $15,000 for each year.

“If it’s not putting the library in a bind, and it helps us, we should do it,” Armstrong said.

Commissioner Needham disagreed, saying, “the stock belongs to the library.” She suggested giving the full stock proceeds to the library as well as funding them from the town’s general fund.

During the last budget workshop Atkins and Commissioner Gary Bell suggested cutting a staff position from the budget. The town operates with staff members holding several job titles. The proposed budget included hiring a part-time finance officer to alleviate strain on the staff and provide internal control for financial accountability.

Having one person hold both the finance officer position and budget officer or bookkeeper position is a red flag to the Local Government Commission. “A separate finance officer eliminates errors and potential fraud,” Reid said.

In addition to improving the functioning of the town, the position would reduce expenses incurred for contracted services and fees due to errors.

Atkins suggested adjusting the budgeted position of 20 hours to 10 or 15 hours.

One proposed change that everyone agreed on is to defer the Downtown Associate Program application for assistance with revitalization. “Working to bring community groups together and establish a ground work before applying will give us a stronger application,” said Reid. Deferring the program leads to a $18,700 reduction in spending.

“My concern is, I don’t want us to lose steam,” said Atkins. He requested that revitalization be put on the July agenda to focus on a vision statement once the budget is complete.

An option that would create long-term savings for the town is an adjustment to the police force, noted officials. Half of one position’s salary could be reallocated to come from the community and economic development budget. Maintaining his full-time position, the officer would spend a year training with Benchmark, the town’s contractor for code enforcement.

“They would train this year with the idea that next year we would not renew with Benchmark,” said Atkins.

While this would have no effect on the budget as a whole for the coming year, the following year the town would see a savings from releasing the contract with Benchmark.

The police department also has plans to retire the K9 unit due to the age and health of the dog, Zipper. Terminating the K9 program once Zipper is retired will reduce the police budget by $975.

The good news

A $3,500 project, changing the alarm system at the Pilot Center, will be completed before the end of this fiscal year. The new monitoring contract will result in a $2,700 savings annually in monitoring expenses.

Three budget requests have been approved by the Surry County commissioners this spring, according to Reid. On May 18, the county forgave the debt service on the Pilot Center for the next two fiscal years. The request to expand the Pilot Knob Fire District was approved on June 11, which means 4 cents of the property tax rate will decrease and be paid by taxpayers as a fire tax instead. Public utility compliance assistance totaling $125,600 was granted on June 15.

The final budget workshop is planned for June 22 with the time to be determined. The public hearing will held on June 22 at 7 p.m.

Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.

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