City Council to begin budget workshops May 1

Published 3:16 pm Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Washington’s City Council begins its series of work sessions for the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget May 1, with several consecutive sessions scheduled that week.

The May 1 session will focus on general-fund revenues and expenditures. The May 2 session is devoted to service expansions, with the May 3 session focusing on enterprise funds — water, sewer, electric, stormwater management and the like. The May 4 session is for additional budget discussions.

One of the challenges the council faces is the loss of $300,000 caused by the cancellation of the EMS contract between the city and county.

To help balance the proposed $15.34 million general fund (day-to-day operations), the proposed budget calls for transferring $1.77 million from the electric fund, economic-development fund and other funds, an increase of $247,321 over the transfers made in the current budget. For several years, Councilman Doug Mercer has asked the city not spend more money than it takes in. With the loss of several revenue sources in recent years, accomplishing that desire is proving to be more and more difficult.

Council member William Pitt knows what he wants the upcoming budget to address.

“The first thing is we need to make sure our employees get a raise, especially those employees who are headed toward the mid-line (of their salary ranges). You can’t run a city without employees, and you can’t have good employees unless you pay them a good salary,” Pitt said. “The second thing is to look to two years down the road at what our expenditures are going to be. You hear too much about the robbery of the electric fund, taking money out of the fund. The money’s there. We need to be 100 percent pay as you go, unless there’s something catastrophic, which is the case right now. It is catastrophic with the potential loss of EMS (revenue) of $300,000.”

Pitt said he wants the upcoming budget to be fair to city employees, take care of major problems such as drainage in the city and address public-safety needs. “You can’t have a community that attracts people if you don’t have good public safety, and public safety includes police, fire and utilities.”

The recommended $1.1 million transfer from the electric fund to the general fund is needed to reduce the appropriation from the city’s fund balance (rainy-day fund) needed to balance the proposed budget, according to city officials. The proposed budget calls for transferring $106,014 from the fund balance to the general fund in the upcoming budget, a drop of $277,981 when compared to the $383,995 transferred from the fund balance to the general fund in the current budget.

One of those revenue sources — the business privilege licenses — was taken away by the North Carolina General Assembly several years ago, costing the city at least $100,000 each fiscal year since then. The city took in about $123,000 in such revenue during the 2014 fiscal year, according to city officials.

Although the General Assembly promised to provide an alternate revenue source after it took away the city’s authority to generate revenue by issuing business privilege licenses, it has yet to do so.

The proposed overall budget is at $75 million, including $34.67 million in the electric fund. The majority of that $34.67 million will be used by the city to purchase power at a wholesale rate. The proposed budget shows the city taking in $33.8 million from selling electricity.

Although the city manager’s recommended budget increases the property-tax rate by 3 cents per $100 valuation that does not automatically result in a tax increase. The council has final say on the budget and any change in the tax rate and fees the city charges for various services and programs.


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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