City Manager Lee Garrity today recommended to the City Council a "hold the line" budget of $396.3 million for 2008-2009 that foregoes any significant expansion in city services and keeps the city property-tax rate unchanged.
Overall the proposed budget allocates $304.7 million for operations and debt service, and $91.6 million for capital improvements, resulting in a 1.9 percent increase over 2007-2008.
The City Council’s Finance Committee will begin reviewing the budget this week. The council is tentatively scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the budget on June 16. By state law, the council must adopt a budget for 2008-2009 by June 30. The budget would take effect July 1.
Slowed growth in the tax base because of a downturn in housing starts and lagging car sales has led the city to project a 1.5-percent increase in the tax base over the coming year. This is substantially less than the robust growth of the past two years, and well below the average growth of 2.5 percent a year since 1994.
This weak revenue growth, combined with rising prices for gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt and other petroleum-related commodities, forced the city to seeking savings elsewhere, Garrity said in his budget message to the City Council.
"Balancing the general fund budget without a property tax increase required a commitment on the part of all departments to effectively provide the same levels of service without substantially increasing expenses," Garrity said. "Service enhancements that were particularly difficult to leave out of the budget were more police officers to focus on street-level drug crime, more grounds maintenance crews to respond to high-volume litter locations, and additional funds to replace vehicles and equipment on a more frequent basis."
In addition, the proposed budget would leave unfilled three vacant positions in the Planning and Inspections departments, a step made possible because of reduced workload in the wake of the downturn in the housing market. Overall, the city’s annual operations review identified savings of $462,280 that were incorporated into the proposed budget.
Despite the squeeze on revenues, the proposed budget maintains the current level of city services and makes a few enhancements:
- City Link, the city’s centralized call center, would be expanded to respond to all calls placed to the city, except for highly specialized areas, including revenue collection and non-emergency police and fire calls. This will be accomplished by transferring 12 positions to City Link from other city departments.
- The Fire Department budget would allow more firefighters to attend specialized training in rescuing operations, computer skills and hazardous materials.
- The Utilities Division would add six positions to create two additional crews for cleaning sewer lines, allowing it to meet a federal requirement that 10 percent of all sewer lines be cleaned annually.
Most user fees would remain unchanged, with some exceptions:
- A $2 state disposal tax will be charged for every ton of waste disposed at the Hanes Mill Road and Old Salisbury Road landfills. Disposal fees for yard waste will also increase by $2 a ton.
- The annual yard-cart collection fee will increase to $55 from $50 to meet rising fuel and disposal costs. The new fee would take effect next year and would not apply to stickers for 2008-2009. The fee has not been raised since the inception of the program in 2002.
- Fees for bulk-container collection would increase by an average of 20 percent to cover increased fuel and disposal costs.
- Water and sewer rates would increase by 7 and 9 percent, respectively, to help pay for capital improvements to the water and sewer system and cover increased operating costs driven by rising fuel prices. With the rate increase, the bimonthly water and sewer bill for the average household in Winston-Salem would be $57.44, an increase of seven cents a day.
The proposed budget includes $507,500 - the same as this year - in grants to the Arts Council Inc., SciWorks, the National Black Theatre Festival, River Run International Film Festival, and the Piedmont Triad Film Commission. No grants would be made to new agencies.
The proposed budget for capital improvements includes $25.5 million to begin rebuilding the R.A. Thomas Water Plant, $19 million for updating the Elledge Wastewater Treatment Plant, and $4.5 million to replace aging water and sewer lines in the Ardmore neighborhood.
How to participate in the budget process
- Copies of the proposed budget are available for review at public libraries and City Hall, 101 N. Main St. Suite 30. Copies of the budget are also available online.
- The City Council’s Finance Committee will hold workshops on the budget May 22, 27, June 3, 5, 9 and 10. All workshops will start at 4 p.m. in the Council Committee Room (Room 239) on the second floor of City Hall, except on June 10, which will start at 2 p.m. These workshops are open to the public but are for the purpose of allowing council members to study the proposed budget.
- The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7:30 p.m. May 29 in the Council Chamber, Room 230 on the second floor of City Hall.
- The Public Safety Committee will review the budgets for the Police, Fire and Emergency Management departments on June 9 at 6 p.m. in the Council Committee Room (Room 239) on the second floor of City Hall.
- The City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7:30 p.m. June 16 in the Council Chamber, Room 230 on the second floor of City Hall.
Read the Proposed Budget online and send comments