STALLINGS – In 2010, the town council was warned their storm water rates were too low and that in order to meet infrastructure needs and permit requirements, they’d need funding to comply with state and federal mandates.
The reason the rates were so low is several years ago, a previous council voted to cut the rates in half to $21.24 per year for small residential properties less than 2,000 square feet, $25.44 per year for residential properties at or more than 2,000 square feet and $16.20 per equivalent residential unit for non residential properties.
Those fees generate about $230,000 in annual revenue.
But town manager Brian Matthews said this isn’t enough to meet the needs of the town’s storm water infrastructure, including services such as an inventory of the system and street sweeping, which is why he proposed moving the rates back to $42.48, $50.88 and $32.40, respectively.
While these rates are still lower than in Indian Trail, Matthews, Mint Hill and Monroe, councilman Paul Frost felt the rational behind the increase was not well presented.
“I recognize that we may need additional funds to satisfy the need to address our storm water mandate … but the increase in those fees has not even been clearly presented to council or citizens,” Frost said. “I’m not in favor of increasing fees until I know that funds are being well spent in other areas of town.”
But councilman Reed Esarove said the council should not be surprised by the need for a rate increase.
“Council was aware this was going to be an issue into the future; we didn’t know exactly when, but we knew we’d have to deal with this issue,” he said referring to the 2010 study done by EMHT consultants.
He said the details behind the increase were still a bit fuzzy, but that the town had to do something in order to keep up with its mandates.
The new rates would bring in about $460,000 annually that would go into a special Storm Water Fund that could only be used for storm water projects.
The total proposed 2012-13 budget is $5.3 million, half a million less than 2011-12.
Included in that budget is $1.9 million for the police department, $884,300 for general government, $1.1 million for transportation, $825,000 for sanitation, $276,110 for economic and physical development and $224,520 for parks and recreation.
The general government budget includes a 3-percent cost of living increase for all town employees, which the council approved 3-2 during a meeting in May.
The police budget also includes two new Dodge Chargers, which will each cost about $28,000 total for the car, equipment and graphics.
And in the parks and recreation budget, Matthews is requesting the addition of new personnel.
With phase one of Stallings Park completed, phase two is under way and Matthews said now’s the time to make the part-time parks coordinator a full-time position and add an additional part-time maintenance/caretaker position to handle the day-to-day cleanup and maintenance of the park. Matthews has requested $66,500 more for the parks budget than in 2011-12.
The proposed budget also includes funding for intersection improvements and streetscapes, new sidewalks and sidewalk repairs, which in total add up to about $618,000, some of which will be covered by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Even with some increases in spending this year, Matthews has proposed the town maintain its tax rate at 21.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which will generate $31.14 million in revenue.
“Overall it’s a good budget,” Esarove said. “Is it everything I want? No. But it never is. There’s no tax increase, we’re getting our priority projects completed and the town’s budget is more than half a million less than it was last year.”
But councilman Frost said he’d like to see the town staff find ways to cut costs and curtail the police department’s budget, which is nearing $2 million annually.
“The U.S. federal government is headed for a fiscal cliff starting next year. It’s inevitable that federal taxes will increase for Stallings citizens,” Frost said. “Therefore, it’s imperative that local government take steps to contain costs. That’s the context of our budget discussions today.
“I hope the council will listen to the wishes of citizens to keep our expense low and resist town management’s continual propensity to grow government.”
Residents will have a chance to make their opinions known during a public hearing June 11 at 7 p.m. at the town hall, 315 Stallings Road.
The full budget is available to view online at www.stallingsnc.org.