Boone council discusses budget priorities
by Anna Oakes
Boone leaders reviewed the town's budget needs and priorities to plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year at the annual Boone Town Council retreat Monday.
The council heard updates and requests from Town Manager Greg Young and town department directors at the retreat, held at the Council Chambers in Boone.
Young advised the council that the town budget could be impacted by changes to the state tax code and if the Watauga County commissioners act to alter Boone's proportion of local sales tax revenues.
The council has about $2.5 million left over from the 2011-12 budget that it can appropriate at its discretion. Young recommended that the council set aside a significant portion of that money for a new facility for the Public Works and Public Utilities departments, as it did last year.
Several line items in the town's expenses associated with the U.S. 421 widening exceeded budget, resulting in an excess of $372,125 that must be covered, Young said. The town had set aside about $400,000 as a reserve for that project, however, so "we may use that," he said.
Councilwoman Jamie Leigh said she would like to see a better representation of the town's operational budget, including staffing and other expenses.
Cultural Resources Director Pilar Fotta said her department would like to partner with the Downtown Boone Development Association to develop a downtown tour highlighting historic buildings and activities. The DBDA also wants to partner with the town to share in the costs of new sidewalks and streetscape improvements downtown.
The department requested appropriations for repairs and upkeep at the Jones House Community Center, repairs to the town's rock house off Rivers Street and cultural programming.
Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs requested funding for new portable radios, water rescue certifications and equipment and the replacement of two staff vehicles.
Planning and Inspections Department Director Bill Bailey said the department is in the midst of reorganizing so that it can function more efficiently. Bailey requested funding for professional development, permit tracking software and hardware upgrades.
Police Chief Dana Crawford said the department's top priority is relocating its E911 communications center to a larger space in the police department building, located on Blowing Rock Road. Crawford also requested funding to remodel the building after the Planning and Inspections Department relocates in April to the renovated downtown post office.
Rick Miller, public utilities director, said that the town's water production increased 4.8 percent last year.
In addition to funding needed for the town's water intake project, the Deck Hill tank is in need of replacement, he said.
Costs associated with maintenance, supplies and materials are expected to increase as much as 40 percent to 50 percent because of new lead-free requirements imposed by the federal government, Miller said.
The Public Works Department requests funding for equipment replacement, road resurfacing and new playground equipment at Junaluska Park. The department also recommended that the town contract out for three days of mowing to free up Public Works staff for other landscaping duties, including flowerbed maintenance, pruning, weeding and other tasks.
The department also asked for council direction in working with the county to build permanent restrooms at Clawson-Burnley Park.
"I think it's certainly worth looking at," said Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson.
Outside agency funding
Several council members expressed support for funding for the Watauga Public Library, while acknowledging that the library -- a county organization -- does not qualify for the town's outside agency funding process because it is not a private nonprofit.
Leigh said she felt the discussion was premature, however, as the Outside Agency Funding Review Committee has worked during the past year to recommend revisions to the town's outside agency funding policies, including a mechanism for requests from organizations that are not private nonprofits.
"In my mind anyway, as important as the library is ... I don't see it as being any more special than many, many other nonprofits in town," Leigh said.
Councilman Rennie Brantz agreed that the issue should be examined through the Outside Agency Funding Committee.
The council was scheduled to meet with the committee on Tuesday.
The council will further discuss budget recommendations at a second budget retreat from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, April 22, at the Council Chambers.