BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council continued budget planning sessions on Monday, this time hearing from department heads about their spending requests for the new fiscal year. The council is cobbling together a conservative budget in light of coming economic uncertainties resulting from the pandemic.
After making tweaks over the next few weeks, the council is expected to vote on the proposed 2020-2021 budget at its June 11 meeting.
GOVERNING BODY/ ADMINISTRATION
Finance Director Steve Shealy presented general governing body expenses, including stipends for elected officials, legal expenses, training, travel, and dues to various organizations that assist the council in acquiring project funds. Requests are rising this year from $93,285 in the current budget to $107,685 in the coming fiscal year.
Part of the increase is related to updated software and a new printer for the town clerk and a $10,000 increase in the new budget for professional services, including required legal counsel and mandated budget auditing.
Administration requests for next fiscal year are $457,024, rising from the current expense of $449,989. The rise stems from $10,000 more in salary costs, a slight rise in insurance benefits and contracted services, and a jump in required retirement expenses.
Debt service on police vehicles and loans for projects actually decreased $57,000 since loans on police vehicles were paid off this fiscal year.
The budget proposal also includes $70,000 to facilities and economic development capital funds to save for future projects and $10,000 allocated to industrial recruitment.
Mayor Teross Young also asked staff to investigate the cost of adding an integrated video broadcast system to the budget to continue broadcasting meetings in a clearer, more professional manner.
Planning Director George Berger presented budget requests for his department that represented a $48,000 increase over the current budget. Group insurance costs ($6,000 more), equipment rental expenses ($3,700 more), and special project requests ($110,000 more but $31,500 being reimbursed from grant money) represented the bulk of the requested spending increases.
Council members discussed the possibility of combining some of the contracted services costs ($58,704 for code enforcement and a part-time planning assistant) into a full-time position to cover those needs and others for Berger’s department.
Council member Paul Bryant argued that with 13 development projects, Berger needs additional full-time staffing. “He’s a one-man show. He needs time to think about the tripling of the population and its positive impact on commercial and industrial growth.”
“He needs resources to take advantage of these and manage them properly. We need to plan for continued growth and excessive demand on the planning department so we can manage it in a smart way.”
Berger suggested that a full-time person could perform GIS work, code enforcement, permitting, and sign code work from home, given the space limitations at Town Hall and the move toward more work- from-home positions in the corporate world. Otherwise, separate office space would need to be procured for the department.
Ideally, this person would have some experience and not require a lot of training, added Berger.
Council member Sally Williams asked which special projects were least important to Berger if council decided to trim the requested items. Berger selected the proposed ETJ expansion study and the Perth/Autumn Leaf Small Area Plan ($70,000 total cost) as most expendable for the coming year.
Chief Tina Fleming’s budget request of $1,518,421 (compared to last year’s budget of $1,323,602) reflected a $67,250 salary increase that will help partially fund additional school resource officers positions and fill a vacant patrol position.
Other additional costs came from a mandated rise in retirement contributions as well as other benefits and insurance ($46,000 increase), an additional K-9 acquisition, including training, and home and vehicle kennels ($28,500), and contracted services ($30,000 more).
Fleming also requested $14,000 for four replacement radios to replace expired ones that are experiencing performance failures. She plans to buy five more out of remaining funds left in this year’s budget.
Councilman Eddie Nau and Interim Manager Jim Freeman expressed their desire to replace all radios (a total of eight) rather than just four, citing the danger to officers and citizens if officers cannot communicate.
Fleming also requested 14 FLOCK license plate reader cameras (two at each of seven access areas to Troutman) at a cost of $28,000 to help prevent crime and aid officers in locating suspects or other persons.
Capital expenditures for the police department include $135,000 for three additional police vehicles to replace three aging ones with high mileage and maintenance costs.
Street maintenance budget requests rose $7,000, mostly because of insurance and retirement increases. Sanitation costs are increasing over $16,000 because of cost increases in contracted services for leaf and limb pick up (up $5,000), garbage collection, (up $6,000), and recycling (up $5,500).
The utility fund maintenance request rose $87,000 over the current budget. The request for utility administration costs rose about $19,000, mostly due to rising insurance costs and a state-mandated rise in retirement benefits.
In good news, capital requests for the utility section declined about $99,000. New capital outlay requests include $19,500 to replace a leaky roof at the Public Works building.
Water purchase costs are rising $63,000 with increasing demand from growth, but the cost is being offset by customers’ payments. Increased sewer costs, however, are necessitating a proposed 2 percent rise in sewer rates for Troutman customers in the proposed budget.
PARKS AND RECREATION
Parks and Recreation Director Emily Watson’s requests for her busy department include hiring an additional part-time assistant as well expanded hours for the current part-time assistant (cost: $15,000 to $40,000). She also asked for $20,000 playground repair and upgrades, and $20,000 for a new 18 foot Christmas tree and holiday tree lights for the greenway.
In addition, Watson asked for $450,000 for a parking lot adjacent to two new baseball fields currently under construction at ESC Park. Council members supported putting the project in next year’s budget at its February retreat, but in light of current economic uncertainties, they favored delaying the project until after the first of the year when any decreases in sales and property tax collection will be clearer.
Nau suggested adding a budget request for interns to help Watson with events and park upkeep.
Troutman Independence Parade Chairman Chuck Gallyon was also on hand to present a request to hold the parade on August 15 if the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions would allow at that time. Gallyon and Watson selected this date because it is the Saturday before school starts on Monday and would be a positive celebration to kick off the school year.
Watson also noted that since all park and town events were canceled through August 1, other events have packed every weekend in the August 29 through November 15 time frame, leaving August 15 as one of the few viable dates — if Watson can get approval for the closing of Highway 21 for the event.
Other possibilities for the delayed fireworks include the evening of August 15 after the parade or on New Year’s Eve.
Council member Sally Williams noted that if restriction phases go as planned, they should be over by July 10. She praised the idea of a celebration in August as a return to normalcy as students head back to the classroom.
Watson suggested a deadline three weeks before the parade to have at least 50 entries or the parade would be canceled. Gallyon felt the parade would attract more bands with school restarting. If fireworks also occur that day, the contractor, if available on that date, also needs three weeks to prepare for the show.
Mayor Young asked that Watson investigate August 15 possibilities for the parade and fireworks and report back to council at its June meeting.