March 14. By Dave Yochum. While still in the preliminary stages, the town manager’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year looks like it will maintain the tax rate at the same level.
The budget Town Manager Anthony Roberts’ budget is working on is in the $22 million range, about the same as the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The town board must approve the new budget before then. Meanwhile, staff and commissioners are working intensely to fine-tune a budget that provides essential town services as well as invests in infrastructure needs like roads and sidewalks and equipment like fire trucks which are approaching 25 years old.
They must live with the budget until July 1, 2018.
“After reviewing preliminary budget numbers at our retreat, I remain confident that we will maintain our already low tax rate in Cornelius for another year. We have the lowest tax rate of any other Mecklenburg County municipality. Continuing to be an efficient and well-run town is a top priority for me and our board,” said Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam.
The current tax rate is 0.255 mils. The local tax on a $250,000 house would be about $637 a year. County taxes, which are on top of local taxes, support parks like Jetton Park and Ramsey Creek Park as well as education and social services.
Taxes are based on total assessed values town-wide of $5.35 billion, up nearly $250 million from the values the 2015 budget was based on. Growth is forecast to drive up assessed values another $100 million-plus by the time the 2019 budget gets here. Planning Director Wayne Herron said more than 100,000 square feet of new commercial ratables are on the books.
The town is expected to grow from a population of around 30,000 now to the mid-30s.
The growth of Cornelius means ongoing investment in personnel, equipment and facilities. Indeed, Fire Chief Neal Smith is talking about the need for another fire station, somewhere along Westmoreland, east of I-77.
The cost: $1.5 million.
“The call volume, population and area construction continue to increase. Call volume in specific fire demand zones have increased showing a need for an addition station on the west side of the interstate,” Smith said. Calls in the fire zone that includes Autumn Care, the senior and assisted living facility just east of Fire Station No. 1, have more than doubled.
And based on the size of Cornelius and the growth rate, Smith said it’s only a matter of time before the town must transition to an all-paid fire department.
On the personnel side, he is looking for “at minimum” two additional people to provide additional coverage during fire and medical emergencies. Emergency calls around the Autumn Care On the equipment side, the fire department’s 1995 Seagrave is well past its lifespan of 10 years on the front line and 10 more years as a backup.
A new engine is $675,000.
“I believe that both our police and fire budgets are robust and serve our community well. Of course, there are always ways to improve services and find savings through efficiency. Recent adjustments to police pay have gone a long way to help retention and improve morale. Administrative staff levels for the police have been shown to be inadequate, requiring sworn officers to be pulled away from patrol to keep up with technical reporting requirements. The Chief is asking for budget resources to address this issue,” said Commissioner Jim Duke.
A much-needed records clerk who would handle police records management is expected to cost $48,000 a year.
The proposed town budget will be tweaked over the next three months. “There is nothing more important than public safety,” Washam said.
View a five-year budget analysis/workup here:
View operating goals, volunteer fire department needs and police records clerk backup here: