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Taxes remain steady, highest in county, in proposed Canton budget

haywoodThe Canton Board of Aldermen took another three hours June 9 to conduct a required public hearing on the 2016-17 budget. That’s in addition to the three hours that were spent discussing it May 26. And there’s still one more session to go June 23.

If anything, the board is thorough. 

But what the public heard at the meetings was probably worth the wait — modest growth and thrifty town management conspired to hold property taxes steady in Canton for the ninth year in a row. 

Granted, they are the highest in Haywood County at 58 cents per $100 in assessed value, but they’ve earned Canton a growing reputation as a place that’s beefing up infrastructure, providing competitively priced services, actively marketing itself and becoming a great employer. 

With the adoption of the budget, Canton will become Haywood County’s first living wage certified government, boosting part-time wages to $12.50 an hour. According to Just Economics WNC — an Asheville-based nonprofit that traces its roots to the Asheville-Buncombe Living Wage Campaign back in 2000 — the living wage for one person in Western North Carolina in 2016 is “$12.50/hour without employer provided health insurance, or $11.00/hour with health insurance provided by the employer.”

But Canton offers employees a very generous health plan as well — their premiums and deductibles will again remain at 100 percent coverage. 

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Also budgeted were $1,500 in cash awards for town employees who stop using tobacco or lose weight. The anti-tobacco use plan is meant to offset a 3.89 percent hike in healthcare premiums from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina. The incentives carry no penalty — no stick to the carrot, something that was quarreled over by the board May 26 — but may help reduce yearly rate increases like this one, which will cost Canton an additional $44,000. 

These benefits are not without cost, however. Healthcare and salaries claim just over 50 percent of the total budget. 

Hoping to continue building its property tax base, board members slated $100,000 for business development grants. Complimenting the grants will be a brand-new website priced at $25,000 with an additional $5,000 set aside for marketing and rebranding it. 

Aldermen hope the new website, which was also a source of conflict among the board May 26, will appeal to potential business owners and developers.

Although the proposed budget includes a water rate increase of 10 percent both to inside customers and the Town of Clyde — as well as a small increase to the 1,000-gallon rate for outside customers — the budget summary presented at the June 9 hearing said they were still “some of the lowest water and sewer rates in the region.” 

Clyde’s rates haven’t been raised since 2008; rates for residents of Canton were raised in 2013.

“At this time I’m satisfied with the budget which in my opinion is a bold budget that aims to strengthen public safety, invests in water infrastructure needs, and empowers economic development both through funding and appearance,” said Alderman Zeb Smathers. “Taxes were not raised, cost-cutting measures were enacted, and the overall health of our budget is secure while we continue toward the completion of the recreation pool project.” 

Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss was equally optimistic. 

“I am proud to see such a proactive board coalesce around a budget that addresses the needs of today while priming Canton for success in the future,” he said. 

The public will have one last opportunity to comment on the budget prior to the vote at 6:30 p.m. on June 23. 

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