by Brett Freeman

HUNTERSVILLE – Commissioners approved Town Manager Greg Ferguson’s proposed budget Monday, June 4, with a few strategic changes. The board cut more than $260,000 from four different departments without changing the budget or the town’s property tax rate. Commissioners reserved money saved for debt service on future bond debt instead of lowering the tax rate by half a penny.

The town is planning for debt service it will incur if voters pass a $30 million bond referendum in November. Debt service on the full $30 million would be roughly $2.4 million per year, which Ferguson has said is too much to be absorbed into the budget without additional revenue, likely from a property tax increase. Ferguson said it doesn’t make sense for the town to lower its tax rate now knowing that it will have to raise it in the near future. A fluctuating tax rate could negatively affect the town’s AAA bond rating, Finance Director Janet Stoner said at a May 29 budget workshop.

“If those ratings get kicked down, (the town’s) interest rates get kicked up,” Stoner said.

Changes will also likely allow the board to push that tax hike back a year, meaning they won’t have to raise taxes for the fiscal year beginning July 2013, five months before commissioners face reelection.

Commissioner Danny Phillips cast the lone vote against the budget.

“I just felt like we could have done a better job and cut further,” Phillips said. The last straw for him was creating the bond reserve fund instead of lowering the tax rate.

“That’s taxpayer money, not town money,” Phillips said.

In other board news, Huntersville’s parks will likely become smoke-free in the near future. Parks and Recreation Director Michael Jaycocks asked the board to ban smoking and the use of tobacco products in Huntersville’s parks and park buildings. The majority of the board said it would support a ban on smoking in buildings and on most park land if designated smoking areas are provided away from athletic fields and playgrounds.

The board also approved a rate hike of five percent for ElectriCities customers effective July 1.