Budget overtime: Council could meet four times this week

Published 11:50 pm Friday, April 24, 2015

Washington’s City Council begins its formal budget sessions at 6 p.m. Monday when it is scheduled to take up the general fund’s revenue and expenditures.

The proposed 2015-2016 fiscal year budget, presented by City Manager Brian Alligood earlier this month, calls for a 1.5-cents increase in the city’s property-tax rate. The City Council has the final say concerning the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Alligood presented his recommended $61.6 million overall budget during the council’s April 13 meeting. The proposed increase in the tax rate would increase the current tax rate of 50 cents per $100 valuation to 51.5 cents per $100 valuation. That means the annual taxes on a house with a tax value of $100,000 would increase by $15.

The proposed budget calls for a general fund (day-to-day operations) of $14.4 million, with a $47.2 million combined budget for enterprise funds (water, sewer, stormwater, electric and the like). The proposed budget calls for increasing water rates by 2 percent, sewer rates by 4 percent and stormwater rates by 20 percent.

The proposed water-rate increase equates to an increase of $5.11 a year on the average water bill. The recommended sewer-rate increase equates to an increase of $13.09 a year on the average sewer bill. The suggested increase in the stormwater fee equates to an increase of $10.48 on the average stormwater bill.

The council is scheduled to resume budget deliberations at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when it is expected to discussion expansion of city services and funding requests submitted by outside agencies. Alligood’s proposed budget allocates the same funding amounts to outside agencies as the current budget appropriates, but look for those allocations to likely change as the council works on the proposed budget in coming weeks.

Alligood’s proposed allocations for the outside agencies are just placeholders in the proposed budget. Those allocations total $105,550, according to the proposed budget presented to the council April 13.

The council will turn its attention to the city’s enterprise funds — water, sewer stormwater, electric and the like — when it meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to the council’s budget-sessions schedule. That’s when the council could talk about how a recently enacted state law could result in lower power rates for Washington Electric Utilities customers.

Last month, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that should help lower electric rates for many eastern North Carolina residents. The law concerns an agreement that allows Washington, Belhaven and other eastern North Carolina cities and towns to proceed with a sales agreement that should reduce electricity rates and spur economic development and job growth across the region.

The $1.2 billion agreement allows Duke Energy Progress to buy stakes in power-generation facilities now owned, in part, by the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, which includes 32 cities and towns in eastern North Carolina.

If all NCEMPA members approve the agreement and it is implemented, electric rates for the members’ power customers are expected to decline, up to 20 percent in some cases. Doug Mercer, a Washington City Council member who regularly attends NCEMPA meetings, has said he hopes the agreement will result in Washington’s power customers seeing their electric rates decrease by about 10 percent.

For many years, NCEMPA customers have paid as much as 35 percent more than power customers in other parts of the state for electricity, a result of the power agency carrying nearly $2 billion in debt for around 33 years. In 2010, the movement to do something about that debt took on new life when several NCEMPA members explored withdrawing from NCEMPA. They faced several contractual and fiscal challenges if they did so.

In Washington’s case, about 70 percent of the city’s wholesale electric bill goes toward retiring the city’s share of that debt, according to city officials.

A fourth budget session, if needed, is set for 6 p.m. Thursday.

All meetings will be conducted in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Building, 102 E. Second St., Washington.



About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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