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Originally published: 2013-06-18 12:08:45
Last modified: 2013-06-18 20:29:59

Council to vote on Boone budget Thursday

by Anna Oakes

No one spoke at a public hearing on the Boone town budget for fiscal year 2013-14 scheduled during the Boone Town Council's regular monthly meeting Tuesday.

The council is scheduled to vote on adoption of the budget during Thursday's continuation of the regular monthly meeting, which reconvenes at 6:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers, located at 1500 Blowing Rock Road.

Some Boone Town Council members believe they have adjusted expenses and revenues enough to balance next fiscal year's budget without a tax increase, while others still have reservations.

"I think we worked diligently to achieve a balanced budget, and I think our good work is going to be recognized," Councilman Rennie Brantz said Tuesday.

Council members met May 31, June 10 and June 17 to review town manager Greg Young's proposed 2013-14 budget line by line.

Because the county voted in April to change the distribution of local sales tax revenue, Boone's General Fund budget is slated to lose approximately $1.8 million in revenue next fiscal year.

Young's original proposal balanced the budget with 5 percent cuts to departmental spending, 5 percent cuts to travel and training, reduced capital outlay and a 5-cent property tax increase. The town is also expected to see increased revenue from some sources, including an additional $300,000 based on increased property values.

But council members Lynne Mason and Andy Ball and Mayor Loretta Clawson opposed a tax hike, suggesting the town dip into its undesignated fund balance instead. In budget workshops, Young said the town had approximately $3 million in undesignated funds above its 35 percent reserve amount. The town's goal is to maintain General Fund reserves equal to 35 percent of annual General Fund expenditures.

Councilwoman Jamie Leigh on Monday repeated concerns about cutting the town's fund balance too close to the 35 percent reserve.

"What I'm looking for is more forward thinking from the council," Leigh said. "I think we need to be looking at next year while we're looking at this year."

Councilman Allan Scherlen shared similar concerns and opposed reductions to the town's dental plan. He said he supported a tax increase next year, arguing it would be temporary because the town would reevaluate its tax rate again after next year's property revaluation.

But Ball and Mason said they were comfortable with the budget as adjusted.

"It's not perfect, but it's a good balance," Mason said.

Council members also recommended several adjustments to line items in the budget, including reduced dental coverage for town employees' families, increased projections for ABC and occupancy tax revenues, increased building permit fees and $174,600 in new revenue from parking meters, which the council plans to install on all downtown streets later this summer. The estimated cost of meter and pay station installation is $88,000.

In addition, council members recommend delaying the purchase of three new police vehicles and a new street sweeper until this fall.

The council also agreed to call back $180,000 loaned from the town's General Fund to the town's Water and Sewer Fund, which the Water and Sewer Fund was slated to pay back at $45,000 annually for the next few years.

In other action, the council:

voted 4-1 to adopt the proposed Watauga County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, a vision document created to guide future transportation decisions by local governments. The plan recommends a new Boone bypass that would travel on the south side of town, nine major widening projects, a new AppalCART route between Boone and Blowing Rock, seven potential park and ride lots, improvements to 33 existing road facilities to accommodate bicycles and pedestrian improvements.

Councilman Ball opposed the plan because he said a bypass would be "bad for business in Boone." Mason served on the CTP steering committee and said she didn't want a bypass, "to be honest, but the numbers didn't work." She said if population projections play out, not building a bypass would require significant widening of existing highways such as U.S. 321 and N.C. 105.

awarded a bid for parking management services to McLaurin Parking Co. of Raleigh, which has managed parking in Boone for the past 21 years.