The City of Clinton’s proposed 2014-15 budget comes in at roughly $1 million less than the current year’s amended budget, factoring in slight utility rate increases, a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for employees and large capital projects, all while keeping the tax rate the same.
The 2014-15 recommended budget totals $13,686,150 for all city operations, capital improvements and debt service requirements. This is $1,141,241, or 7.7 percent, less than the 2013-14 amended budget. The fiscal plan is balanced with no increase in the city’s 40 cent per $100 valuation tax rate, a 1.5 percent increase in water and sewer fees and $150,000 from General Fund reserves.
The recommended General Fund totals $8,728,150, which is 2.68 percent less than the 2013-14 amended budget of $8,968,391 as of May 19, 2014. The 2014-15 recommended Water and Sewer Fund totals $4,789,000, a 15.5 percent decrease from the 2013-14 amended budget of $5,668,200 as of May 19, 2014.
“The budget is fiscally sound, and although it does not fund all the requests made by departments or external agencies, it does address the top priority needs of the city and will allow us to maintain a high level of service for Clinton citizens,” city manager Shawn Purvis stated.
The Water and Sewer Fund includes the recommendation for a 1.5 percent hike in water and sewer rates, proposing an increase in water base rates from $12.19 to $12.37 and sewer base rates from $12.70 to $12.89. Water and sewer consumption rates would rise from $1.83 to $1.86 and from $1.78 to $1.80 per 100 cubic feet, respectively.
Purvis noted that the recommended new rates represent nominal increases, and the fees are still among the lowest in towns across the state.
“It is important to note that the rate increases for water and sewer are nominal and should have a minimal affect on the average user. For example, an average family of four or five that uses 5,000 gallons (668 cubic feet) a month will see an increase of $0.62 on their monthly water and sewer bill.”
The recommended budget includes $150,000 from fund balance for capital expenditures, specifically $50,000 for a new fire engine and the remaining $100,000 for other vehicles and equipment.
The City of Clinton’s estimated unassigned fund balance as of June 30, 2014 is just shy of $4 million, or 45 percent of expenditures. The city’s formal policy establishes a goal between 35-40 percent, with funds in excess of 40 percent to be assigned for capital purchases.
There will be no health insurance premium increases and a 1 percent COLA, totaling $19,000, is factored in the fiscal plan. Potential merit increases could also total $28,500.
As part of the recommended budget, the city is proposing to add an engineer position in the Public Works and Utilities Department. The position, involving primary responsibilities with water and sewer utility activities, “will prove beneficial as the city begins multiple, large water and sewer projects during fiscal year 2014-15.”
In his budget message, Purvis said a city engineer will relieve the city of having to employ engineering services for smaller projects that can be performed in-house. “The position is also part of the succession plan for the Public Works and Utilities Department, which anticipates the retirement of several key positions in the next three to four years, including the director,” the city manager noted.
For 2014-15, the City Council has also requested the Sampson Board of Commissioners raise the fire tax rate by a half-cent, from 9.5 to 10 cents per $100 valuation, which would increase revenues by $21,000. Those revenues would be used to offset costs associated with service to the rural district and beyond.
About one-third of the Clinton Fire Department’s calls for service are outside the city limits. To that end, the city maintains two stations, of which the Beaman Street station would not be necessary if the department did not serve the rural district. The city is also requesting $40,000 from the rural district reserves to use for a down payment for a new pumper to serve that rural district.
In addition to vehicle requests to update the citywide fleet, other budget highlights include:
• $171,500 for street resurfacing, $30,000 less than the previous two years.
• $50,000 to construct sidewalks along Barden Street that will connect homes to the Sampson Center and connect with the existing sidewalk system that stretches toward downtown and Sunset Avenue School.
• $1.7 million to replace water lines throughout various city neighborhoods as part of a Community Development Block Grant project.
• $20,000 for a materials shelter for Utility Line Maintenance and $32,000 for a metal storage and work building at the wastewater treatment plant.
• $78,000 for an aluminum enclosure of the influent headworks and splitter box as part of odor mitigation work at the wastewater plant, which has already cost an initial $25,000.
• $2.4 million (USDA loan) for the water plant and well site expansion, half the entire $5 million project cost. The entire project will take about 18 months to complete and will be over the course of two budget cycles. The Southwood elevated tank will be constructed at the same time as the water production expansion project. The city previously received a zero percent interest $1.77 million loan from the N.C. Division of Water Infrastructure.
Recovery is ‘evident’
The N.C. 24 widening project has already meant positive growth locally, as a subdivision and an apartment complex along N.C. 24 have been approved for construction.
“Evidence of economic recovery and potential growth is gradually becoming evident in Clinton,” Purvis stated in his budget message, his first as city manager.
Nearly all vacant industrial buildings are now occupied, two local metalworking industries are expanding and a third has expressed its intent to expand. Additionally, Clinton is on the verge of seeing a $160 million investment by biofuels company Chemtex. The city has received many inquiries from similar industrial endeavors and N.C. 24 will only mean more growth and opportunities, the fruits of which are expected to be seen starting in 2017.
“We need to prepare ourselves to capture and take advantage of as much of that growth as possible,” Purvis stated. “Our tax base has experienced little to no growth since 2008, and it was on a downward trend until revaluation in 2011.”
The city manager said it was crucial to evaluate every service and program and its effect on the city’s financial sustainability in order to position Clinton in the best way to bring in new jobs, support business and industry and provide housing opportunities.
Realizing growth, and capturing revenue from it, is key.
“We will continue to explore opportunities to improve efficiency,” Purvis stated, “but we also need growth to generate more revenue if we want to continue to offer our citizens the highest level of services.”
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at the Tuesday, June 3, City Council meeting, to begin at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium. The budget is available for public inspection in the office of the city clerk during regular business hours and those wishing to speak at the hearing can contact the city clerk at 910-592-1961 in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.