The people of Greensboro are looking at a tax increase and a water rate increase if the fiscal year 2017-2018 budget proposed by City Manager Jim Westmoreland is approved by the City Council. The budget will go into effect on July 1.
It is likely that the City Council will make some tweaks to the $532 million budget, proposed by Westmoreland at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 16 in the Council Chambers. But major changes are unlikely judging from this City Council’s attitude toward past budgets.
At the work session held in the Plaza Level Conference Room before the City Council meeting, the proposed water rate increase of 3.75 percent for those inside the city limits and a 1 percent increase for residents outside the city was presented to the council.
City Councilmember Mike Barber was the first to raise an objection to the idea that people who do not live in the city and do not pay city property taxes would have less of an increase than those who live in the city and do pay property taxes. Barber had support from most of the councilmembers who spoke on the water rate increase.
Water Resources Director Steve Drew said that the recommendation represented a change in philosophy toward those living outside the city.
Why the philosophy was changing was unclear despite repeated requests for an explanation.
Currently those living outside the city pay 2.44 times the inside-the-city water rate. The state allows cities to charge those outside the city up to three times the rate of city residents.
Cary charges outside residents the full triple rate allowed by law.
The past philosophy of the City of Greensboro has been to gradually raise the outside rate to that maximum and that appears to be the current philosophy of the City Council. Barber said he didn’t like the idea of city residents being charged more so that those outside the city could be charged less.
It is likely the City Council will insist that the water rates for those inside and outside the city be raised at equal percentages or the outside rate be raised more than the inside rate.
The tax rate increase is sneaky. City Councilmember Jamal Fox said that he would like to see the rate come down, but that seems unlikely.
The actual rate is not increasing; it will remain at 63.25 cents – the highest of any comparable city in the state. But Guilford County reevaluated all the property in the county last year, so property values increased. To raise the same revenue as would have been raised without the property reevaluation would set the tax rate at 61.14 cents. This is called the revenue neutral property tax rate and, by state law, after a reevaluation local governments have to make the revenue neutral rate public so they can’t sneak in a tax increase without the public knowing.
As a result of the reevaluation, the property owners of Greensboro are in effect going to see a 2.11 cent property tax increase in the upcoming fiscal year.
The tax increase will bring in an additional $8.3 million in revenue, which means this is a plush budget with a lot of increases and not many cuts.
City employees get a 3 percent pay increase. It’s not across the board but based on merit. There is an additional 2 percent increase for salary structure adjustment.
The city will also continue its march toward raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour by 2020. The minimum wage will be raised from $12.50 in the current budget to $13.
The sworn Police and Fire Department employees receive a 5 percent increase in this budget but that is likely to change judging from comments by city councilmembers.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Councilmembers Justin Outling, Tony Wilkins, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Barber all said they would like to see the police get more of a pay increase to make the Police Department competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the area.
Vaughan said, “I think we’re falling really far behind many cities in the state when it comes to police and fire. I think we have to do something a little bit more bold.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower said she would vote against any pay increase for the Police and Fire Departments.
As usual, one topic that the city councilmembers talked about was funding for outside agencies. Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann noted that it was 0.15 percent of the total budget, but it was still the only part of the budget she spoke about, saying that she thought outside agencies should be able to spend the money they receive on capital projects or operating expenses.
Outling had suggested that the outside agencies only be funded for capital projects.
Wilkins questioned why Sanctuary House, a facility that provides services for the mentally ill, was not funded. Westmoreland said that Sanctuary House was recommended by the committee but he chose not to include it in the budget.
Westmoreland, In answering questions from the councilmembers, stressed that the proposed budget was a starting point and the final decision on the budget would be made by the City Council.
Usually the City Council gets caught up in discussing the funding for outside agencies and doesn’t do much else. It appears that in this budget the City Council is going to give the police officers and firefighters a larger raise and change the water rate increase so people who live outside the city and can’t vote for them do not get a better deal than those who live inside the city and can vote in city elections.
If the council does those two things, it will have more of a part in developing this budget than it has had in several years.
Westmoreland pointed out that one of the three unfilled positions that are being eliminated in this budget is an assistant city manager position. He said he was comfortable with the three assistant city managers the city currently had. Two years ago the city had five assistant city managers, although only four worked in the city manager’s office. So it appears that the administration will not be quite as top heavy as it has been in past years.
The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is slated to receive $2.9 million in this budget, an increase from $2.7 million in the current fiscal year. Westmoreland said this would allow another employee to be added to Greensboro Aquatic Center and two employees for the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.
The council will hold a work session on the budget on Tuesday, May 23 at 2 p.m. in the Plaza Level Conference Room. The public is generally not allowed to speak during work sessions.
Community meetings will be held at the Greensboro Historical Museum Auditorium on Tuesday, May 30 and Wednesday, May 31 at 6 p.m.
The public hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, June 6 at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers.
The budget is scheduled to be adopted on Tuesday, June 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers.