BY STACIE LETT CAIN
Spaced safely in a banquet room at the Statesville Civic Center, the Statesville City Council met on Thursday and Friday to discuss how to best to move the city into 2021.
The retreat, timed to assist council members’ shaping of 2021-2022 budget considerations, was designed to give staff direction on financial and infrastructure priorities.
“This retreat is an important activity for the council to have the information we need to be able to vote on the upcoming budget,” explained Council member William Morgan. “It gives us the details and priorities that city staff work hard to prepare so that when we are crunching those numbers we do it from a position of being fully apprised of what we need versus what we are spending.”
The city’s growth was a topic of discussion throughout both days of presentations both from a financial and infrastructure standpoint. As much as growth can be a positive thing for a city like Statesville, the rate of growth, if not prepared for, can also be a detriment, according to City Manager Ron Smith.
“We are on the precipice of some major changes coming in to our city and you just haven’t seen them yet,” he told council members. “We get calls every day from developers interested in our city. The last thing we want to do is let this development outpace us. We can’t let the development outpace our infrastructure.”
Council members discussed not only the building of a new fire station and patrol headquarters for the police department but also the need for a new city garage and warehouse facility.
“We have been talking about all of these projects for some time, and I am not saying that I am not in favor of a building a new fire station,” Councilman Steven Johnson explained. “But what I am saying is that if we do, we need to make sure that we do it and have enough money to build that new garage and warehouse that we need. I believe that is a bigger priority right now.”
In terms of those building projects, the council discussed using some money is in the city’s fund balance, currently about $17 million, which would be enough to cover a large portion of those projects, or keep that money in the city’s coffers and borrow the money while interest rates are low.
“This is what I do for my day job,” Morgan offered. “We have historically low interest rates right now and I think we need to take advantage of that because we won’t see them staying this low indefinitely. Then we maintain that money in the city’s control, which I think is the decision that makes the most sense.”
No decisions were made and no votes taken on the issues discussed.
“This activity isn’t about our opinions,” Councilwoman Doris Allison stated. “This is about making sure we have all the facts so we can move this city forward in the right direction.”
One thing the council agreed on was that the City of Statesville has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic better than expected so far.
“The information I am presenting to you is an indicator of how we are managing the pressures that we, as a city, are facing financially,” explained Finance Director Chris Tucker. “Where the general fund is sitting right now is a bit better than last year and a bit better than the last few years. We made a little money this year.”
Showing increasing revenues from sales taxes and property taxes, Tucker was hopeful that the upward direction would continue, but he warned that a conservative approach is the best.
“The City’s total net position increased by $18,592,792, which is a combination of assets added to the city and money made by the city,” he explained. “But at the same time the City’s total debt increased by $3,636,935 during this fiscal year. Our projections for the upcoming year are positive but we are taking a conservative approach.”
His outlook was shared by Johnson, who was pleasantly surprised by where things stood in the City.
“I have to tell you that months ago when all of this mess started I never thought we would be in as good a situation as we are in and that credit goes to our City Manager Ron Smith and his hard working staff,” he said. “I want to personally thank them for all they have done to keep this City going during this very difficult time in history.”