FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Board of Commissioners worked on the budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday with two goals in mind — finding more money to pay employees and doing so without asking taxpayers to dig deeper.
During a budget workshop, the commissioners discussed an across-the-board pay increase ranging from 1.5 percent to as much as a 6 percent.
Town Manager Katrina Tatum’s $1.88 million plan leaves the tax rate at 73 cents for every $100 of property and keeps water, sewer and garbage fees the same. The budget does not add or cut any positions, and provides an additional $14,000 for code enforcement.
Tatum has recommended a 2.5 percent increase, and that each full-time employee receive a one-time $350 stipend and each part-time employee receive a one-time $175 stipend.
Tatum said her recommendation is based on information from the North Carolina League of Municipalities on what towns of similar size to Fairmont pay employees.
“What we don’t want to do is lapse into a negative revenue flow that will prohibit future COLA allowances or result in loss of critical positions,” Tatum said in her written report. “This has happened in the past and we should take heed of past mistakes.”
The commissioners were in general agreement about the need for the pay hike and one-time stipend, but didn’t agree on a figure.
Commissioner Terry Evans proposed a pay increase of 1.5 percent.
“I’ve seen years where no employees got a raise,” Evans said. “I’m not going to play Russian roulette. You never know what’s coming.”
Commissioner Charles Kemp had previously suggested a 4 percent raise, but Commissioner Monte McCallum favored a 3.5 percent raise, saying it would keep the town safe by possibly preventing some employee turnover. Commissioner J.J. McCree had asked for a 6 percent raise.
As a state employee herself, Felicia McLean-Kesler said she has gone years without a raise and doesn’t want that for town employees.
“I don’t want to see us go in reverse,” McLean-Kesler said.
Tatum cautioned that the League of Municipalities has said the town should expect a reduction in utilities franchise revenues, and that the budget should be conservative. She did say sales tax revenue is higher for the current fiscal year than projected.
Employee health insurance premiums, which are covered by the town, are expected to go up approximately 10 percent, Tatum said. An upcoming meeting with the insurance provider should provide more information.
The commissioners agreed to let Tatum discontinue a costly an emergency telephone outside Town Hall at a savings of about $5,000 a year. Tatum said the emergency line isn’t used and has gone from costing about $100 a month when it was installed a few years ago to nearly $430 a month.
The proposed water and sewer budget is slightly more than $1.2 million and includes money for some needed equipment, Tatum said.
“We put enough money in to make a reasonable down payment on the equipment and put money in for the first payment if it is due by June of 2018,” Tatum said.
She expects to finance about $200,000 for the equipment, money that could be paid back over four or five years if the town can get a good interest rate.
The commissioners must adopt the budget in advance of July 1, which begins the new fiscal year.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.