BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Town of Troutman’s proposed 2022-2023 budget includes increased fees for non-state mandated town services, water and sewer rate increases, salary increases for town employees, and the addition of a full-time code enforcement officer.
During Monday’s agenda briefing, Town Manager Ron Wyatt and Finance Director Justin Mundy, after incorporating council’s input from the strategic planning session in April, presented the Town Council with a spending plan that includes no increase in the ad valorem tax rate.
The final budget proposal will be presented to council at its June 9 meeting. There will be a public hearing during that meeting.
The budget will be available for public inspection at Town Hall and on the town’s website for at least 10 days prior to the public hearing date.
The budget includes increases for “extra” town services — set at $1.80 monthly for nearly two decades, to $7.75 a month, an increase of $5.95. This fee increase will offset the increasing costs for these services, including recycling ($65,081), street sweeping ($28,350), and leaf and limb pickup ($64,923), that Wyatt and Mundy discovered the town has been absorbing for years without a fee adjustment.
Mundy said this increase would generate about $223,000, which will cover current costs and help recoup lost costs over the past years.
Water and sewer rate increases of 20 percent are also included in the budget proposal. The last fee increase was during fiscal year 2016-17, when council approved a 2 percent increase.
Council members said they were unaware of this creeping rise in costs over the past five years, which Mundy, who joined the town staff last September, discovered in the process of constructing this year’s budget proposal.
The increases incurred by the town over the past five years were not passed on to customers, and because utility funds must be self-sustaining, the increase is necessary to catch up with the cost increases and provide a small cushion for further expected increases in 2022-23, town officials said.
“We have no choice but to go up,” Wyatt said.
Council member Paul Henkel agreed, saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know, but once you know, you have to act on it.”
Wyatt said the average 2,000-gallon water and sewer bill is currently $71.21. With the proposed increase, that bill would rise to $85.45. The average industrial bill is $185.79, which would increase to $222.95.
Wyatt also reminded council that Statesville and Mooresville have their own water and sewer systems, so those customers do not have to pay a middle man as Troutman does with its contracted water and sewer services.
Troutman could build its own systems, but that construction would cost millions of dollars.
Wyatt also pointed out Troutman’s lower ad valorem rate of 52 cents per $100 valuation, as compared to Mooresville at 57 cents and Statesville at 55 cents.
Wyatt apologized to “each and every citizen” for the proposed increases.
“We should have raised rates every two to three years instead of it coming out this way. I apologize for being the bearer of bad news,” he said.
Wyatt proposed a 6 percent raise for full-time employees, which he said could be divided into cost of living and merit pay pots if the council desired. Sworn full-time law enforcement officers could receive a maximum raise of 10 percent.
Wyatt noted that departments had revised evaluation instruments and criteria that can be used to determine merit-based pay increases.
Because county and nearby municipal employees have higher salaries and the town has lost employees to higher paying jobs, Wyatt said the town must raise its salaries to attract and retain employees.
“The job market is behind for government employees, so we have to bump them up just to get people to apply,” he explained.
The town has also improved its benefits package, including better insurance offerings, for employees.
CODE ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
Hiring a full-time code enforcement officer would cost $107,090 the first year, including a $50,000 salary, truck, uniforms, and equipment. The town currently contracts for an officer one day per week; increasing the contract to two days per week would exceed a full-time salary position.
Council members have been discussing the need for a full-time code enforcement officer for several years to address such violations as crumbling residences, unmowed lawns, houses covered by overgrown landscaping, and indoor furniture on porches and in yards.
Town Planner Lynne Hair and Assistant Planner Andrew Ventresca have started code enforcement rounds around town on one day per week to note issues and to direct the code officer’s attention on his appointed day, but the job is time-consuming with required visits, calls, letters, and possible hearings for some cases.
Wyatt noted three houses in town are considered tear-downs, some of which may stir controversy but are necessary to protect the health and safety of neighbors.
If the council decides to add the code enforcement position, Wyatt said the current officer could train the new person in procedures, familiarize him or her with the town, and help direct training needs until he or she is ready to operate independently.
Hair also said that if an experienced person does not apply, a retired law enforcement or military person with the right temperament and spirit of finding cooperative solutions with residents would be an excellent candidate for code enforcement training.
With the current deluge of building permits, Hair said the officer could also help with that part of the Planning Department’s work. Hair issued 80 in April alone, compared to 300 for all of 2021.
OTHER PERSONNEL NEEDS
Wyatt said he will need to hire a vacant front office position and also sees the need for a full-time IT person to meet the town’s increasing demands. “We need additional personnel to keep up with providing services to our citizens, but I cannot hire anyone until we get additional space,” he said.
Wyatt noted that three small offices are currently shared by two employees. One office will be freed up when the Planning Department moves next door.
OTHER BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS
Projected ad valorem tax revenues for 2022-2023 are $3,954,695, nearly $900,000 over this year’s budget projection. Local sales taxes will bring in about another $1 million.
Total revenues are projected to be $5,933,664, without the addition of the town services fee increase to $7.75 per month.
Projected 2022-2023 budget expenditures, with the addition of the code enforcement officer, are $5,997,880, a $64,000 deficit without the town service fee increases.
The council also discussed lighting costs for all or parts of ESC Park, but the $800,000 Mosco bid to illuminate all the park with LED lights, necessary electric grid upgrades, and other peripherals was too steep at this time.
The breakdown included $439,000 for the baseball fields, $349,000 for the soccer fields, $79,000 for volleyball courts, and $24,000 for each parking lot area. Though this bid was higher than others, it included all the electrical infrastructure needed and a 25-year guarantee, which the other companies did not include or match in their non-LED bids.
Wyatt also pointed out LED lights were much lower cost to operate than other lighting types.
The Mosco bid is valid until August of 2023, so the council will look for grants and community partners to offset the cost.
The first park priority is the construction of the concession stand and bathrooms at the baseball fields, for which $325,000 was rolled over from this fiscal year to add to another $325,000 this coming fiscal year to construct this project. The scoreboards are being funded by community groups.
Wyatt said staff will meet with Duke Energy to devise an electric grid plan for the concession area, irrigation, scoreboards, and future lighting needs as well. Putting that grid in now will lower the Mosco lighting bid, which included that cost in the its plan.
COMING UP THURSDAY NIGHT
♦ Presentation of Funds for Autism (Town of Troutman Fundraiser) to Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center – Aimee Combs, ACEing Autism – Julie Coughlin.
♦ Annexation and rezoning request for .47 acres on Lexus Drive from Iredell County to Troutman Highway Business.
♦ Budget amendment for acquisition of property located at 344 North Eastway Drive
♦ Consider selection of auditing firm for fiscal year 2022-2023.
♦ Consider appointments to the Land Use Map Advisory Committee.
♦ Set June 9 annexation hearing requests for 103.54 acres on Autumn Leaf Road and Byers Road for Autumn Leaf West project, 88.58 acres for the Houston Road industrial development, and 17.861 acres at Charlotte Highway and Lexus Drive for Solid Rock Ventures project.
♦ The Troutman Townes project on South Eastway Drive has requested a delay in council consideration to have time to modify the site plan to attempt to meet the lower density of current zoning. Mayor Teross Young requested any new plan be sent back to the Planning and Zoning Board for consideration before coming to council.