In the past the Greensboro City Council has always instructed the city manager what it expected in the budget as far as a tax rate increase. Managers have been told that they could formulate a budget with any tax increase they desired, but the Council also wanted to see a no tax increase budget.
In 2017 at the insistence of City Councilmember Justin Outling and then City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, the City Council, voted not to raise the tax rate. But because it was a property tax revaluation year, by keeping the rate flat the city got the benefit of a 2 cent tax increase.
This year the city manager received no official input from the City Council on how to formulate the budget and the result is a 3 cent tax increase and a $2.50 recycling fee that will raise the same amount of revenue as a penny on the tax rate. So the budget has the equivalent of a 4 cent tax increase.
Neither the recycling fee, nor the tax increase has been discussed by the City Council. At the budget work session on Wednesday, May 29, one might have expected a councilmember to ask what a budget with a 2 cent tax increase would look like or even for the manager to bring back a budget with no tax increase for comparison.
City Manager David Parrish has repeatedly told the City Council that one of the reasons for the tax increase is that the city wants to spend less of its fund balance every year. Fund balance is the equivalent to a savings account. Managers and staff love having large fund balances because it gives them a lot of wiggle room. There is always a big pile of money available if the elected officials have some projects they want to fund during the year. It is definitely in the manager’s best interest to set aside as much money as the elected officials will allow.
But the question someone on the City Council should be asking is if having a larger fund balance is in the best interest of the taxpayers.
Judging from the first budget meeting, Outling is the only member of council who has any concern for the people who pay property taxes and provide the biggest source of revenue for the city.
It seems likely that some property owners would rather have that money in their own savings account rather than in the city’s fund balance. Raising taxes for expenses is one thing, but raising taxes so the city can increase its savings account is an issue that the City Council should at least discuss.
It’s a fat budget. Councilmember Tammi Thurm asked about the $250,000 in the budget for the Cure Violence program. It is almost a certainty that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is not going to vote to fund Cure Violence and the majority of the City Council has said the city is not going to fund the project without county participation.
Thurm questioned why the $250,000 was included in the budget.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan by comparison complained that Outling was asking questions about the proposed mental health crisis response team when it was only $500,000 in the $566 million budget.