Office of the City Manager May 22, 2014
$506.9 Million Budget Proposed for 2014-2015
City services would remain at the same level and the city property-tax rate would increase one cent to make up for a loss in the tax base resulting from a new state law under the $506.9 million budget that City Manager Lee Garrity has recommended to Mayor Allen Joines and the City Council.
The proposed budget allocates $305.1 million for operations, $35.5 million for debt service and $166.4 million for capital improvements. The property tax rate would be 54 cents for every $100 of value.
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 16. By state law, the council must adopt a budget for 2014-2015 by June 30. The budget would take effect July 1.
In his budget message, Garrity noted that a new law passed last summer by the General Assembly excludes custom software, such as that used at data centers, from taxation. As a result, the city tax base will lose an estimated $300 million to $400 million in value. “In terms of property tax revenue, this exclusion will cost city government between $1.6 million to $2.1 million,” Garrity said.
To make up for this loss, Garrity recommends raising the tax rate by a penny, which would bring in $1.9 million. “Based on the current tax rates of the other large cities in North Carolina, Winston-Salem’s rate would remain in the middle of the group,” Garrity said.
The operations budget includes provisions to slightly adjust the pay of city employees who are making less than the average pay for similar jobs with other city governments and businesses in the area.
A “market pay” study over the past year found that overall, city salaries are 89 percent of the average for like jobs and that 80 percent of city employees are paid less than the average in the market, some by more than 30 percent.
To make a dent in this pay gap, Garrity is recommending a 1.5 percent raise for employees who are paid less than the average for their position and raising the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. This would increase overall city pay to about 91 percent of the market, Garrity said. All city employees would also be eligible for a merit-pay increase of 1.5 to 3 percent based on their performance.
In keeping with the recommendations of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Council, operating hours for CityLink, the city’s citizen service call center, would be adjusted to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends and some holidays. The change would allow for increased staffing during peak hours, resulting in less wait time and improved accuracy. An answering service would monitor the CityLink line after hours and forward emergency calls to the appropriate department.
Overall, the city payroll would be reduced by five positions. Sanitation would eliminate eight vacant positions and one vacant parking attendant position would be cut. However, the Police Department would hire two more fingerprint examiners and an information systems analyst to support the Fire Department. The Fairgrounds would add a senior crew coordinator.
There are no new fees in the proposed budget. User fees would remain the same except for a 4.5 percent increase in water rates, a 6.7 percent increase in sewer rates and a $1.24 increase in monthly water and sewer base charges, as approved earlier this month by the Utility Commission.
With the 2014-15 budget, the 9-cent levy recommended by the Downtown Winston-Salem Business Improvement District Advisory Committee will take effect. The levy will raise $608,000. The committee has recommended a work plan for the money that focuses on improving cleanliness, increasing safety, improving marketing, accelerating development and enhancing downtown appearance.
The proposed budget for capital improvements includes $117.4 million for water, sewer and stormwater projects, $17.5 million to modernize and expand the Benton Convention Center, and $18.3 million to address building structural problems at Union Station and convert it into a transportation center.
How to participate in the budget process
- Copies of the proposed budget will be available for review at public libraries, city recreation centers and City Hall, 101 N. Main St. Suite 30. The proposed budget is also posted online.
- The City Council’s Finance Committee will hold workshops on the budget at 4 p.m. May 29 and June 3 and 4:30 p.m. June 9 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 10, 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 or 74.3 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 Public Safety Committee will review the budgets for the Police, Fire and Emergency Management departments at 6 p.m. June 9 in the Council Committee Room. This meeting will be carried live on WSTV 13.
- The mayor and City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 16 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.