Property tax, electric utility rates unchanged in new city budget

Published 3:54 pm Friday, June 2, 2023

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Washington’s current ad valorem tax rate of 58 cents per $100 value will remain the same as well as the electric utility rate for Fiscal Year 2024, according to City Manager Jonathan Russell. 

A monthly trash service fee will increase by one dollar because of current diesel fuel prices. As of Friday morning, the cost of diesel fuel was around $3.50 a gallon. 

The city’s budget totals $133,060,118 which is an 11.6% increase from last year when the budget was $117,574,395, according to a budget summary published by the City of Washington.

Russell presented a proposed city budget for Fiscal Year 2024 before council on Wednesday, May 31 which they passed 3-2. Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Brooks and council members Lou Hodges and Mike Renn voted in favor, but council members William Pitt and Bobby Roberson were the opposing votes.

Russell said raising property tax and electric utility rates would put a “greater burden” on citizens which the city wanted to avoid. 

Russell continued to say that with the new budget, the City of Washington “is doing more with less.” By less, Russell meant the COVID dollars the City is no longer receiving for capital projects. 

“We challenged all of the departments to really cut everything tight as they could. We knew that coming out of COVID people are still struggling. Inflation is hurting everyone. It’s costing more for fuel, groceries and everything that involves day-to-day life. We were sympathetic to the community’s needs and trying to really make sure we were counting for every dollar and being good stewards of that,” Russell said. 

A goal of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget was to add four Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) positions which was made possible by amending the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for city employees. By lowering the COLA from a previously suggested 7% to a flat 5%, the city was able to reallocate money which will be used to pay those positions and positions within the Parks and Recreation Department. 

The COLA adjustment was set to a flat 5% instead of 7% that would have been divided to contribute 3.5% to employees’ salaries and the other 3.5% to their 401k investments. The 5% rate is similar to surrounding areas like Beaufort County, Pitt County and Greenville and Martin County, Russell explained. 

Amending the COLA would generate an estimated $300,000 that will be allocated to hire four Emergency Medical Technicians starting July 1 and a couple positions with Parks and Recreation. 

During the meeting, Mayor Donald Sadler said he “commended” Russell and city staff for “bringing to council a balanced budget without raising taxes or (electric) utility fees.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Brooks said a primary purpose of the city budget is to take care of citizens which he says are like extended family members. “We need to take care of our family…the third family is the citizens of Washington and we need to take care of them.” 

Councilman Roberson spoke to the Daily News the following day about why he opposed the budget. Roberson outlined several issues he had with it. 

The first issue is that the city, in his opinion, does not have a comprehensive plan for Emergency Medical Service and EMTs. He believes Beaufort County has more incentives to offer new graduates like a better work schedule and possibly a higher salary. “To me, there is no long range plan for the city to approach what the county’s doing in terms of emergency medical service.” 

Roberson said he is in favor of having four more EMT positions; however, he believes the city needs a plan. This same reasoning is why he voted in opposition to the budget last year. 

The second issue Roberson had about the budget was the focus on not raising property tax and electric utility rate, but without him mentioning it, the fee for trash service would not have been pointed out. He felt that other increases within the budget should have received more attention. 

Roberson’s third issue was that money from the city’s savings account was used to balance the budget. “You should never do that in our situation,” Roberson said. 

He explained the City of Washington’s sewer treatment is close to reaching capacity. His concern is that the city will not have enough funds to cover the cost of an impending expansion. “They need to do the same thing that we did for the police department….We restricted two cents on the tax rate and built up the reserve fund.” Roberson said that plan helped build the new police station, but it is not being implemented to save for an expansion for sewer treatment. 

He said the city is setting aside a “minimal” amount of money for the sewage treatment plan expansion. 

City Council will meet again on Monday, June 12 at 5:30 p.m. in their chambers at City Hall.