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Wednesday, 31 May 2017 13:46

Bryson City to maintain tax rate, increase service fees

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With an annual budget of only about $2.9 million, the town of Bryson City doesn’t have much wiggle room when it comes to cutting expenses or allocating funds for major projects.

Town Manager Chad Simons told the board that the town’s income has stayed about the same except for a $25,000 increase in property tax revenues. 

“The increase in ad-valorem will fund our police department’s transition into a new facility at the old Federal Courthouse Building,” Simons said in his budget message. “This transition will not occur until the board of aldermen approves a lease agreement with Swain County.”

The county is scheduled to close on the federal building property in May 31 with plans to relocate several county offices, school administrative offices and the Bryson City Police Department in the underutilized building on Main Street. While the county is obtaining the property for free from the federal government, there will be additional costs for upgrades. The county, town and school system will also split the costs of utilities. 

“The $20,000 increase in the Public Buildings Fund should cover the utility costs associated with the move, should the board opt to approve it,” Simons said. 

Simons also recommended keeping the same property tax rate of 35 cents per $100 of assessed value, which brings in about $455,000 to the town coffers. 

When comparing to other towns, Bryson City’s tax rate falls in the middle — Sylva’s tax rate recently increased to 42 cents, Waynesville’s rate is 48 cents and Franklin’s is 28 cents. 

Simons is recommending the board use $8,943 from its fund balance to balance the proposed 2017-18 fiscal year budget in addition to increasing fees for water, sewer and garbage services. The proposed budget would increase residential trash service from $8 to $10 per month and commercial would increase from $18 to $24 per month. Even with the increase in fees, the sanitation fund still won’t bring in enough revenue to break even, but will help the town purchase a new truck.

“The proposed revenue increase is approximately $31,000, which will leave a deficit of $30,000 in the sanitation fund,” Simons said. “The additional revenue will help finance a new freightliner. The current 1997 garbage truck is past its life cycle. This budget allocates $40,000 for the financing of a new garbage truck, should the current garbage truck need to be replaced.”

State law requires municipalities to operate their water and sewer accounts as an enterprise fund, meaning they have to be self-sustaining and ideally should generate enough revenue to also pay for future infrastructure needs. The town increased its water and sewer usage rates last year to help fund capital needs, but Simons is recommending an increase this year to the water and sewer base rates, which haven’t been increased since 2013. 

An inside residential base rate would increase by $2 per month and an inside commercial base rate would increase by $3.40 per month. An outside residential base rate would increase by $4 per month. With ConMet — one of the county’s largest employers — planning to shut down its Bryson City plant in January 2018, Simons said the town stands to lose about $35,000 in revenue annually.

“We are expected to lose our largest industrial user mid-way through fiscal year 2017-2018,” he said. “The proposed rate increases will not only enable the town to adjust to the losses and additional expenses, but will provide the town an opportunity to make larger transfers to the capital reserve fund.”

The proposed budget also includes a 3.5 percent increase to the town’s payroll by giving pay increases to certain positions that Simons says are “well below the minimum salary range.” He added that getting those salaries up will help the town in recruiting and retaining employees as well as move it toward a merit-pay system rather than relying on annual cost-of-living increases. 

The town’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday, June 5, at Town Hall located on Everett Street. The town has to approve the 2017-18 budget before July 1 per state law. 

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