Council OKs $26.3M Boone budget, 4-cent tax hike
by Anna Oakes
The $26,303,193 budget includes funding for four new firefighter positions, 1.5 police telecommunication positions, a 4 percent town staff pay increase (2 percent merit, 2 percent cost of living) and funding for capital and special projects, including reserved funding for a new government center, street resurfacing and improvements, Boone Police Station renovations, sidewalk expansion and subsidies to outside agencies.
"It's been several years since the council has made an adjustment to the tax rate," said Boone Mayor Andy Ball. Council members said the tax increase was needed in part to offset the loss of $2 million in annual revenue because of the county commission's decision last year to change local sales tax distribution.
Councilwoman Lynne Mason proposed scaling back a six cent property tax increase being considered to three cents by using more undesignated funds to balance the budget.
"I'm just concerned about doing too much too fast on the backs of the property owners in Boone," Mason said.
Town Manager Greg Young's recommended budget included a five cent tax increase, but council members bumped the proposed increase up to six cents during a budget workshop earlier this month to cover funding for the additional personnel.
The council settled on a four cent increase -- to 41 cents per $100 valuation -- after some discussion and acknowledgement that an additional property tax increase may be needed next year. Young advised against the use of fund balance monies for recurring expenses, such as personnel, but council members said they would continue to work with the county commission to restore lost sales tax revenue.
The budget also includes a 50 cent increase of minimum and tiered water and sewer rates to meet future debt service requirements for the planned water intake project.
Council members made allocations from $3,371,680 in undesignated General Fund monies remaining from the 2013-14 budget for some of the capital and special projects included in the 2014-15 budget. The town also maintains an additional $5.6 million in cash reserves for emergencies.
The council reached consensus on the changes to the budget proposal, but had not yet voted to approve an amended budget ordinance for 2014-15 as of presstime Thursday.
In other action, the council:
- suggested that town staff draft a number of changes to its regulations on wheel-locking in privately owned parking lots, including mandated background checks for obtaining required parking attendant ID badges, modified signage requirements and a mandate requiring an attendant to give a verbal warning to drivers present in lots before wheel-locking their vehicles.
- considered a rezoning request from The Standard at Boone, a mixed-use project that would redevelop the Red Carpet Inn and Scottish Inn properties on Blowing Rock Road.