05/05/09 — City talks cuts as budget planning continues

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City talks cuts as budget planning continues

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 5, 2009 1:46 PM

The Goldsboro City Council continued Monday discussing how to proceed with the proposed 2009-10 city budget, which City Manager Joe Huffman called "probably the hardest and the easiest budget we've ever done."

"Hardest because of cutting, and easiest because everyone worked as a team," he said.

The base fee for water service might be going up on top of the originally proposed 10 percent usage rate increase, but the increase would be a slow one, building over several years, Finance Director Kaye Scott said.

Base water fees have not increased since 1999, but under the proposed revision, water bills would go up an additional $2.50 per month. A further $2.50 increase would also be applied next year, and a third $2.50 increase the year after. The current rate for a three-quarter-inch meter is $4.64.

The city is currently operating water at an 80.5 percent self-sufficiency rate, with depreciation of the equipment figured in, while water reclamation is operating at 89.27 percent sufficiency and refuse at 71.22 percent self-sufficiency with depreciation, officials said.

"We're spending 20 percent more than we're getting in," said Karen Brashear, public utilities director. "The 10 percent will barely keep up."

The city is currently on the low side of what it should be charging for water, she said.

"We cannot go forward, we cannot repair the water plant because we do not have the funds to do so," Ms. Brashear added.

The proposed base fee increase and 10 percent water usage rate increase would bring in an estimated $350,250 per year for the city, and achieve a 96.5 percent self-sufficiency rate.

City employees will not receive a cost of living raise this year, according to the current budget plan.

"Right now knowing what we know, it didn't seem appropriate to include that at this time," Huffman said.

And the proposed 5 percent increase in health insurance premiums will come at a price for city workers.

"Take-home pay for employees will go down," Huffman said.

Civic employees could potentially see other changes in their pay. The council discussed adopting a merit-based rather than a longevity-based pay system for eligible employees. The flat rate change could save the city more than a quarter million dollars, according to calculations from the finance department.

The council also informally agreed to cut their own salaries by $600 per member, and $700 for the mayor, to give city employees a Christmas party. Funding for the annual party was removed from the 2009-10 budget.

While there will be mosquito spraying this summer, under the current budget, 2009 will be the last year for the spraying, Chief Inspector Ed Cianfarra said.

"My staff will do the spraying this summer, we've already bought (the chemicals) for this summer," he said.

The spraying chemicals were purchased in December, and are already on hand, Cianfarra said.

The Goldsboro Fire Department's needs are also being addressed by the council. Although the budget currently includes funding to purchase two fire trucks that will cost about $450,000 each, the trucks might not even fit into the outdated bays, Fire Chief Gary Whaley said.

"It's going to be very, very close. We're looking for a lower-profile truck," Whaley said. "The way that station was built has us boxed in."

There is no money in the proposed budget to redesign the existing fire stations, but the council requested that Whaley obtain plans for alterations that would allow the trucks to fit. Whaley said he is pursuing plans for improving the bays.

It is possible the city and other municipalities in North Carolina could lose their Powell Bill funding this year, just like the state education lottery funding, said Mayor pro tem Chuch Allen.

"They could take all of it," Allen said.

If the state government does freeze Powell Bill funding to municipalities, "we've got another set of problems," Huffman said. "It could be devastating, or it could be positive in some ways."

The council also discussed repairing the granite street curbs in the Goldsboro historic district.

"That's the place you need to spend money. I don't understand why someone hasn't fixed that," council member Jackie Warrick said.

One estimate put the repairs at $50 per foot.

Tree root encroachment into sidewalks might also become an issue, the council said.

"We have a policy issue with the sidewalks," Huffman said.

But problems with tree roots growing into sidewalks should be handled on a case-by-case basis, Allen said.

The council recessed and will reconvene on Monday at 11 a.m. to continue discussing the proposed budget. The council could vote on the budget as soon as May 18.