City services would be maintained at their current level, some bus routes would begin Sunday hours and the property tax rate would increase to 51.7 cents per $100 of assessed value under the $398.2 million budget for 2012-2013 that City Manager Lee Garrity has recommended to the City Council.
Overall the proposed budget allocates $336.7 million for operations and debt service and $61.5 million for capital improvements. The property tax rate would increase 4.2 cents to offset unavoidable increases in operating costs which for the past four years have been covered by budget reductions and reserves that are now depleted. Under the proposed tax rate, the property-tax bill for a house valued at $125,000 would increase $48.50.
The City Council’s Finance Committee will begin reviewing the budget next week. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the budget on June 18. By state law, the council must adopt a budget for 2012-2013 by June 30. The budget would take effect July 1.
In his budget message to the City Council, Garrity noted that a tax increase is necessary to sustain city services at their current level. “Over the last several years of a severe recession, we have worked diligently to avoid tax increases or service reductions,” Garrity said.
Specifically, he noted, the city has implemented hiring freezes, cut department budgets, eliminated vacant positions, deferred employee pay increases and cut back in the replacement of capital equipment.
“Unfortunately, after depleting much of our reserves, we continue to face expenditure increases in pensions, health care, fuel and electricity over which we have little, if any control,” Garrity said. “To maintain our core functions and avoid service reductions to the citizens, we must consider an adjustment to the property tax rate.”
Of the proposed 4.2-cent increase in the property tax rate, 1.5 cents would be earmarked for replenishing the city’s Mass Transit Tax Fund, which has been used in recent years to offset operating losses in the city’s public transit system and will be depleted by the end of the current fiscal year.
One cent of the tax increase would offset the pending loss of “hold harmless” payments from the state to reimburse cities for lost inventory taxes, and 1.7 cents would support city services.
The total proposed budget for 2012-2013 is 1.9 percent higher than 2011-2012. The budget for the General Fund, which accounts for municipal services that are covered primarily by property and sales taxes and other general purpose revenue, is $179.5 million. Excluding one-time charges for capital improvements, the General Fund budget is up 2.4 percent.
There are no new fees in the proposed budget. User fees would remain the same except for a 30-cent increase in bus fares and a 9.75-percent increase in water and sewer rates approved earlier this month by the Utility Commission. The higher rates would cover higher operating costs and debt service for improvements in water and sewer plants and the distribution and collection system.
Select bus routes would be operated on Sundays as part of a pilot program to measure rider interest. The City Council and the Winston-Salem Transit Authority board have received requests over the past few years to offer Sunday service.
Grants to community agencies would remain at the same level as this year.
City employees would be eligible for merit pay increases of up to 1.5 percent or a minimum of $500, in part to offset higher health insurance premiums that they will be charged.
The proposed budget for capital improvements has $44.6 million for water and sewer, stormwater management and solid waste disposal projects, including $2.9 million for improvements to the Muddy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, $4.4 million to replace aging water and sewer lines in the Ardmore neighborhood, $4.3 million to repair water and sewer lines in the Muddy Creek Basin, and $3.3 million to replace aging water and sewer lines in the area around 21st, 22nd and 23rd streets. Other capital spending includes $3.7 million for replacing buses operated by the Winston-Salem Transit Authority, $2 million for resurfacing city streets and $1 million for building sidewalks.
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 on the city web site.
- The City Council’s Finance Committee will hold workshops on the budget at 4 p.m. May 31, June 5 and June 11 in the Council Committee Room (Room 239) on the second floor of City Hall. A fourth workshop would be held at 2 p.m. June 12, if needed. These workshops are open to the public but are for the purpose of allowing council members to study the proposed budget. Citizens may watch these workshops live on WSTV 13, the Government Channel, on TimeWarner Cable channel 13 and AT&T U-verse channel 99 in Forsyth County. WSTV 13 can also be viewed live online.
- The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 5 in the Council Chamber (Room 230) on the second floor of City Hall. This hearing will be carried live on WSTV 13.
- The Citizens’ Budget Advisory Council will review the budget at 4 p.m. June 7 in Room 348 of City Hall.
- The Public Safety Committee will review the budgets for the Police, Fire and Emergency Management departments at 5:30 p.m. June 11 in the Council Committee Room. This meeting will be carried live on WSTV 13.
- The City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 18 in the Council Chamber before voting on the budget. This hearing will be carried live on WSTV 13.
- Citizens can also phone in comments about the budget on the city’s Citizen Feedback line, 734-1400, or submit comments through a form on the city website.
Proposed 2012-2013 Budget Document [pdf/9.5mb/279p]
Other information about the proposed budget
WSTV 13 broadcast schedule, with link to online viewing