“What this budget seems to do so far is hold the line,” Smathers said. “It holds the line on taxes, there are no increases in taxes. It also holds the line with economic development, takes care of law enforcement and fire and streets, which at the end of the day are our first priorities for the town.”
In a good news/bad news type of situation, the town’s projected tax rate will remain at 58 cents per $100 assessed value, but will also remain the highest in Haywood County.
It’s been the highest — or tied for it — since at least 2002, but hasn’t changed since 2007, when it was raised from 53 to 58 cents.
However, over the course of those 11 years inflation has reduced the purchasing power of that 58 cents considerably; today, it would cost 69.5 cents to purchase something that cost 58 cents back in 2007.
“Again I think this keeps with our narrative of what we’re doing in Canton to encourage growth and still provide the services that we do, yet, it does take care of the financial health of the town as we deal with the rising costs of insurance and benefits,” said Smathers.
Town Manager Jason Burrell’s budget presentation to the board was also his first as town manager; the long-time assistant and interim manager took the helm last April and at that time inherited a budget begun by his predecessor.
But Burrell wasn’t the only one — Alderman James Markey and Kristina Smith, both elected last fall, are taking part in their first budget process as well.
What Burrell presented to them was a budget with little new spending and proposals for some considerable new fees.
State statute allows for municipalities to charge a municipal vehicle tax fee of between $5 and $30 per vehicle; the town doesn’t currently charge, but could realize around $60,000 in new monies if the board decides to institute it.
The town also doesn’t charge fees for planning and zoning permit work, like letters of zoning compliance.
“We’re probably the only municipality that doesn’t,” Burrell said.
Tap fees for hookups to town water service could also see an update, which hasn’t happened since 2011.
Spending priorities include a new roof on the Canton Armory, minor costs associated with the addition of a county-subsidized school resource officer, raises for town employees and funds for economic development incentives.
Municipalities have, under N.C. law, until July 1 to pass a budget ordinance.
“Again, the process is developing,” Smathers said. “This is but the first step.”