Some commissioners want more cuts to spending

by Josh Lanier

HUNTERSVILLE – Huntersville officials are proposing a 1-cent property tax increase in the 2011-12 budget.

Although, in a strange budgetary process, Huntersville’s current tax rate of 29 cents per $100 assessed value would decrease to 28.5 cents. But because most homeowners assessed value is increasing ­– thanks to the countywide revaluation – Huntersville residents can expect to see an  uptick in their town property tax bill.

That increase will amount to about $20 per $200,000 assessed value, adding about $545,000 to the town’s income, but some commissioners are asking town staff to come back with a budget that includes no increase. They’ll hash out those potential changes to the budget at a special meeting Friday, May 6, at 2 p.m. at town hall. The public is welcome.

Huntersville Town Manager Greg Ferguson made his budget presentation to the town board Monday, May 2, that includes a 3 percent salary increase to town staff – the first pay raise in two years – the replacement of 10 police cruisers and two additional public works positions.

The budget, however, would keep the solid waste fee static at $54; decrease the amount of money going to the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, at that board’s request; allow for improvements to athletic fields; increase firefighting spending; and fund a half-time police department victim’s advocate to handle abuse and rape cases.

Commissioner Charles Jeter said he still sees places where cuts can be made to reach a “revenue-neutral budget,” one that makes enough cuts to compensate for increases to property values in the revaluation.

Jeter proposal would disallow raises for town staff; cut stipends paid to elected officials, like the town board; nix the two additional positions to the public works department; and kill a proposal to give the town board members iPads and software.

The town has considered using iPads to save on printing costs in the future.

“Right there you have more than the $545,000,” he said. “If you look at what I’m suggesting, we would not cut one item that would affect any services whatsoever for the residents of Huntersville.

“ … I’m not saying the staff doesn’t need or deserve a pay increase, but the question the board has to ask themselves is their priority 3 percent added to salary and benefits for town employees, or is their priority raising taxes on their citizens?”

Even if commissioners could agree to a revenue-neutral budget, however, some homeowners may end up paying more in property taxes as their home’s values may have increased more than the average.

“Take my house,” Jeter said. “My property went up 21 percent, so regardless of our cuts, I will end up paying more. Some may end up paying more, some will end up paying less, that’s the reality of the situation.”

In Huntersville, the average home increased 18.6 percent in value.

Commissioner Ron Julian said he hasn’t had enough time to fully digest the budget, but he would probably get behind Ferguson’s proposal.

“Huntersville has a great many needs,” he said, “from public works, roads, bond payments for the N.C. 73 widening, fire, police and its employees, and we need to find a way to make sure those are being met.”

In his proposed budget, Ferguson warns against revenue-neutral spending as the town is already planning on very thin margins for operating capital with his proposal.

“A revenue-neutral tax rate of 27.5 cents is not recommended in order to help establish the debt service reserve and address budgetary needs. The $10-per-household difference ($200,000 assessed value) will help plan for those needs,” Ferguson said in the proposal.

Like Jeter, Commissioner Ken Lucas also wants to see a revenue-neutral budget.

“I’m OK with the operating capital where it is,” he said. “We’re making sure our fire, police and (emergency medical services) personnel are being funded where they need to be and we’re not cutting services. I’m happy with that.”

Lucas and Jeter stressed that families and governments across the country have had to tighten their budgets in tough economic times, and Huntersville should follow suit.

“I think that you’re seeing this across the nation,” Lucas said. “It’s time to show restraint in spending.”

By the numbers
Estimated percent increase in property valuation by town

Cornelius    16.3%
Davidson    18.2%
Huntersville    18.6%
Matthews     11.2%
Mint Hill    5.3%
Pineville    32.7%
Source: The Mecklenburg County Tax Assessor’s Office

Want to go?
Huntersville will hold a special meeting to discuss the budget Friday, May 6, at 2 p.m. at town hall, 101 Huntersville-Concord Road.