Rockingham proposed 2014-15 budget features no tax increase

Draft includes 3 percent COLA increase for all 131 employees

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — City Manager Monty Crump said the primary goal of the draft 2014-15 budget is to provide the same level of service to city residents “in a cost effective and efficient manner.”

The proposed budget seems to do just that. Beginning at 9 a.m. on May 28 at Rotary Lodge overlooking Hinson Lake, Crump, Mayor Steve Morris and City Council members are expected to all but finalize the budget after hearing final pitches from department heads.

The proposed budget reflects the priorities of City Council — 29 percent of the city’s 2014-15 expenditures is to go to the police department, 13 percent each to the fire department and sanitation while 6 percent is allotted for recreation.

City of Rockingham General Fund (proposed FY 2014-15) Expenditures by function

City of Rockingham General Fund (proposed FY 2014-15)
Expenditures by function

The session is open to the public and includes a presentation by Police Chief Billy Kelly at 10 a.m., outgoing Fire Chief Charles Gardner at 10:10 a.m., Larry Harrelson of building & grounds and cemetery at 10:20 a.m., Richard Haugen (water & sewer, streets sanitation/shop) at 10:30 a.m., Eddie Byrne (water plant) at 10:50 a.m., Larry Cobler (wastewater plant) at 11 a.m., John Massey (planning) at 11:10 a.m., Hazel Tew (finance) at 11:20 a.m., Dave Davis (parks and recreation) at 11:30 a.m. and Shelly Walker of Richmond Community Theatre at 11:40 a.m.

All times are estimates. Afterwards, council members will begin a wrap-up conversation at 11:50 a.m. and break for lunch at noon. At 1 p.m., council will go into closed session to discuss personnel issues.

Features of the proposed Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget, which begins July 1, includes no tax rate and the same 131 city employees as the current 2013-14 year. In addition, water and sewer rates are projected to remain at current levels. The budget does reflect a 3 percent across-the-board cost of living adjustment for the city’s workforce.

All non-government agencies have been flat funded in the draft budget as prepared by Crump. In addition, the budget features expected increases in health insurance premiums ($70,000) and property/casualty/liability insurance ($26,349). By department, both the police and fire agencies’ budgets reflect increases of $96,000 and $80,000, respectively.

The police department has requested four new vehicles, including two patrol cars, at a cost of $103,000. The fire department’s proposed capital outlay appropriations include $57,000 for a new pumper/tanker and $49,483 for installment of a ladder truck, plus $24,000 for portable radios and $21,000 for Phase II radios, maps and GPS equipment.

However, some of those increases could be countered by cost-savings in the current fiscal year. The city projects a savings of $86,000 in administration this year and could come in an estimated $30,000 under budget in the police department.

Further, the city’s General Fund fund balance shows a balance of $2.63 million at the end of June and $2.23 million 13 months from now.

“The city is fortunate to continue to be in the sound financial position that it is in given the state of the economy and financial pressures over the last several years due to slow growth,” Crump tells council members in the proposed budget. “The proposed FY 2014-15 budget does provide for the continuation of the same level of city services with no tax increase and no increase in water and sewer rates while maintaining the sound financial condition of the city. I give our employees great credit for the part each one continues to play in managing city resources.”

State law requires the council adopt its budget by the end of June. However, Crump has encouraged members to wait as long as possible while state lawmakers consider taking action on addressing a change, implemented by law last year, in certain costs eligible for reimbursement for sewer upgrades funded by a Community Development Block Grant.

Until last year, the cost of hook-up fees — up to $3,000 per customer — for 120 East Rockingham customers on a planned, and sorely needed, sewer upgrade were an eligible cost. As the law change, the state has passed that cost along to municipalities, which must decide whether or not to pass along the cost to the consumer.

That doesn’t make sense, Crump said, because CDBG funds are deployed in low-income areas — meaning the new law impacts the people least able to afford a $3,000 bill.

The city has opted to move forward with the grant application but has stopped short of committing to the project.

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