STALLINGS – During a special meeting Monday, May 7, town council got some not-so-great great news from their state legislative leaders.
First on the council’s wish list was getting support for a hotel tax. Matthews has a 5-percent hotel tax and Monroe has an 8-percent tax. This occupancy tax is only applied to the users, typically not residents.
“Those two towns generate just over $300,000 a year in annual revenue from occupancy tax, but our estimate is just about $95,000 because we only have two hotels,” said Mayor Lynda Paxton.
But neither Rep. Craig Horne or Sen. Tommy Tucker were very supportive of the plea.
“They indicated to us they signed a pledge that they would not support any tax increases and even though this hotel tax is really more of a user fee, they weren’t real keen on the idea of supporting us on that,” Paxton said.
Legislators did suggest, though, that the council bring up the issue after the election, in the long session which begins in January.
And when the issue of annexation came up, Horne and Tucker indicated they would support a voluntary annexation by Stallings of the Community Park neighborhood which is mostly in Stallings, but has five properties in Matthews.
The residents have already petitioned the town for annexation and Matthews has agreed to de-annex in order for Stallings to annex, but a bill still has to go through the legislature.
What Horne and Tucker said they will not support is the annexation of Madison Ridge, which is partly in Stallings, partly in unincorporated Union County and partly in Matthews.
“Some of these residents have approached us because they’d like the services the town offers and our lower tax rate, but with it having three jurisdictions it’s more complex because the section in the middle, in the unincorporated area, is getting the benefit of services already without paying an additional tax to any town, so they’d probably not come in voluntarily,” Paxton said.
And that’s why neither Horne or Tucker would support it.
“In light of the recent court decision overturning the annexation bill passed and signed into law last session, we both expect this coming short session to pass a total moratorium on involuntary annexation in North Carolina in order to allow the General Assembly to construct a fundamental and comprehensive overhaul in our annexation laws,” Horne said. “North Carolina is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows both involuntary annexation and Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). The new majority does not look favorably on either process.”
And while these are issues the town will have to work through with the state, more pressing issues were at hand when looking at next year’s budget.
In a split 3-2 vote Monday, council voted to approve a 3-percent cost of living raise for all town employees.
“That was despite the fact we’ve given increases in three of the last four years,” Paxton said.
Town employees have received about an 8 percent salary increase, total, over the last four years, and some council members argued that while there are teachers losing jobs and state employees not having a raise in the last four years, it didn’t seem right to have a cost of living increase this year.
Councilman Wyatt Dunn proposed a 1-percent increase, but the vote was 3-2 against. Councilman Harry Stokes was not present. Had he been present and voted in favor, Paxton would’ve cut the tie and voted against it.
“I was not in favor of giving an increase this year because we’ve given a lot,” she said.
Council also voted to buy two Dodge Chargers for the police department at about $23,000 each, and will spend about $5,000 more up-fitting the cars with decals and equipment.
The other area of discussion was the parks and recreation budget, of which council cut $58,000.
Those cuts were $40,000 for a Christmas tree and lights in Stallings Park, $8,000 reduction in the Stallings Fall Festival Budget, and $10,000 from other town events.
During Monday’s meeting, councilman Paul Frost encouraged staff to continue to look for ways to reduce the budget.
“I am convinced the town manager can find ways to reduce expenses in Stallings,” Frost said Tuesday.
Frost said when he asked manager Brian Matthews to look at ways to provide the same services for less money, Matthews didn’t have any answers.
“He only offered explanations for why he wants to spend more of our money than he did last year,” Frost said.
One suggestion to cut the budget came from Councilman Reed Esarove who proposed cutting Granicus, the recording system the town uses to record town meetings.
But Frost said this would only reduce transparency in town.
“I would be opposed to eliminating Granicus as it is the only means of our citizens and the media to hear the proceedings of council meetings,” Frost said. “I hope other council members see the value that increased transparency brings through Granicus.”
The town’s next budget meeting is May 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. at town hall.