Aldermen examine Town of Columbia budget

Published 11:21 am Friday, June 7, 2013

This continues a two-part series looking at the presented overview of the Town of Columbia’s budget.

White explained that the water and wastewater treatment plans are now at the age that more frequent maintenance is needed. We continue to find ourselves replacing or rebuilding motors, replacing bearings, and making more repairs than just a year or so ago. The reserve funds mean that adequate funds are also available for repairs when needed.

“Insurance provided to the town through the NC League of Municipalities is also increasing in cost. We anticipate an increase of 19.6 percent in employee health insurance premiums and a 2 percent increase for the two retirees who received supplemental insurance with Medicare as their primary coverage. More troublesome is the 50 percent increase in health insurance premiums the next year when the Universal Health Plan is fully implemented,” said White.

White mentioned that some small employers may have to reconsider whether they can continue to offer health insurance to their employees.

The contract with the Tyrrell County Sheriff for enhanced in-town law enforcement services will not be renewed, but the town will make a contribution to enhance law enforcement services within the town that equals the previous three-year annual contract amount of $96,366.00. The cost of the fire protection contract with the Tyrrell Volunteer Fire Department will increase 8 percent or $2,113 annually. Eight percent is the five-year cost living increase, the duration of the previous contract.

“No major new programs or initiatives are planned, except for improvements that are primarily granted funded-finger piers funded by a BIG grant, a NC Department of Coastal Management funded canoe and kayak launch, additional sewer line replacements, and wastewater treatment plant expansion,” said White.
White said that the Town of Columbia still hopes to see the long-awaited North Carolina Boundary Canal dredging get underway, but will budget that work as a capital project when the work is set to begin.
The proposed FY 2013-14 budget also includes a one percent partial cost of living increase for employees.
“You have some dedicated hard employees who go the extra mile to complete their responsibilities and serve the residents of this town. They frequently make do with inadequate equipment and resources, stretching tax dollars, and they deserve some recognition of their valued services.
The town budget continues support for the Scuppernong River Festival, the River Town Christmas celebration, and the Partnership for the Sounds. Columbia is a significant partner in each of these programs.
The recommended budget does not include any funds for the Columbia Medical Center or any other non-profit that has appealed for the funds.
“I suggest that if the medical facility has specific equipment needs during the year and needs helps funding such a purchase, that they make another request to the Board of Aldermen,” said White.
Significant resurfacing of streets occurred during the past two years as part of the sewer rehabilitation program. Funds for additional street and sidewalk work can from the Fund Balance if necessary, but no major work is planned.
White said he anticipated spending to place a dry fire hydrant on Water Street as an aid to fighting fires in the downtown business district, providing matching funds for the BIG, and canoe/kayak projects and has allowed for those revenues from the fund balance since they are one-time expenses.

This is a municipal election year, so $4,468.00 is budgeted for that purpose.
The Water and Sewer Budget will require an appropriation from the fund balance in the amount of $29,338.00. This is to cover the cost of anticipated fencing and similar costs that are not covered in the wastewater plant expansion budget but will need to be done to complete the project. Some expenses in the water and sewer enterprise fund have been decreased due to the wastewater treatment plant expansion which will address some existing sewer and equipment problems.

White proposed adding a Water/Sewer Maintenance Work with the expansion of the Wastewater Treatment Plant at a cost of $19,760.00.

“We can share the first year costs of a new trainee employee with the Northeast Workforce Development Program, thus reducing wage cost by 25 percent,” he said.
Then second year will require that town pick up the entire cost of the position.  White explained that it is important that Town begins to train someone who can move into a more responsible water/sewer position as the current employees reach retirement.
An increase in the water and sewer rates is not recommended.
The budget is based upon a tax value of real property within the Town of Columbia that is $56,600,000.00, slightly higher than last year but still a conservative figure.

“We used a very conservative tax value when calculating the last three budgets so I am comfortable with using this slightly higher value,” said White.

Projected calculations will remain at 93.31 percent, a figure that White said the Town should be able to reach with recently enacted and more aggressive tax collection procedures.
The proposed 2013 year tax rate will be 44.6 cents, unchanged from last year.