By Stan Welch
The Williamston Town Council faced the challenge of balancing a budget for the coming year that reflected a deficit of $140,000 based on the figures presented at Wednesday’s budget workshop. Two hours later, after a lot of discussion and proposals by Mayor Durham and Councilman Rockey Burgess, and a significant concession by Police Chief Tony Taylor, a budget was arrived at.
No vote was taken on the new figures because the law does not allow votes in a workshop format, but next Monday should see first reading approval of the budget, barring some unforeseen occurrence.
Several issues and proposals defined the discussion. Mayor Durham hammered his viewpoint that producing a break even budget that did not increase revenues would be irresponsible. He repeatedly reminded the council that simply erasing the deficit would not allow for any contingency funding. “If the Council wants to manage by crisis, then that’s what we’ll do. But no reasonable budget would have no contingency funding.”
His proposal to generate additional revenues included a two tiered rate increase in sanitation fees; a move he said would generate an additional hundred thousand dollars a year. He argued that the proposed increase was a reasonable one. “In 2005, the fee was raised to fourteen dollars and everyone managed to pay it.” He challenged the Council, asking “When will this Council find it appropriate to increase fees or taxes? If not now, when our budget is so lean, when will it be a good time?”
Regardless of his arguments, support for the fee increase was simply not there from the other members of Council. Durham also suggested raising the tax millage by 2.4 mills, the legal maximum available. That action would bring in approximately twenty four thousand dollars in revenue. By the end of the session, the Council had reached a consensus that the millage increase would be preferable to the fee increase.
Councilman Burgess went through a detailed review of the existing budget figures, and offered a number of cuts. He also raised the possibility of transferring some of the salary for Envision Williamston director Sonya Crandall to the hospitality tax account. Town attorney Lee Cole stated that in his opinion virtually all Envision Williamston expenses could be paid with hospitality tax . “Legally, I think that all of the activities are tourism related.”
Mayor Durham and town clerk Michelle Starnes quickly injected the news that the finances won’t work on that. “We just don’t have enough to spare from other uses of those funds to cover all the costs.” After some impromptu calculations, Starnes said that twenty one thousand dollars in costs could be safely transferred, a move that figured into the final calculations.’
Chief Taylor had argued for across the board raises for his department in order to remain competitive in attracting and retaining officers and command personnel. Following considerable discussion, he offered to reduce the request , saving twenty thousand dollars throughout the sixteen man department.
The consensus of the Council reached included the millage increase, which would add approximately ten dollars a year to the taxes on a one hundred thousand dollar house; moving the twenty one thousand dollars to the hospitality tax fund; leaving the sanitation fee where it is, and making a number of the cuts suggested by Burgess.