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Cornelius News

Budget season begins

Town Hall | Photo by Jason Benavides

Feb. 13. By Dave Yochum. A Town Board budget planning meeting held last week in the new Cain Center board room with the mayor, commissioners and department heads surfaced a wide range of pressing needs, all in the context of budget limitations and the possibility of a recession.

Come budget season, the town faces capital improvements greater than what can ever be satisfied in a single year, Mayor Woody Washam said.

“There are always critical items that can no longer be delayed and others that can be moved back. The tough job is prioritizing what is critical as well as meeting the needs and desires of citizens,” the three-term mayor said.

The items on the wish list include:

—Cross walks on West Catawba Avenue. There are none from Jetton to Westmoreland and from Westmoreland to Sam Furr—where a pedestrian was hit and killed by a car in late November. The cost would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars; Phase 2 widening of West Catawba from Jetton to Sam Furr is five or more years away.

Budget presentations included $250,000 for security improvements to Town Hall

—Upgraded security in Town Hall in light of mass shootings around the nation. Staffers were surprised by a man walking through various offices with a video camera. “It’s not safe,” the mayor said. The cost is on the order of $250,000.

—lmproved dispatching system for Cornelius Fire Dept. Chief Guerry Barbee estimates that the new system could shave minutes on response times for fire and medic calls, but it will require software upgrades in both Cornelius as well as the Mecklenburg County Dispatch Center. The estimated one-time cost for the town portion would be approximately $80,000.

—New School Resource Officer (SRO) for Cornelius Elementary and JV Washam Elementary in light of recent shootings at elementary schools. The request, from Police Chief David Baucom, would cost about $43,000 for a half year in terms of salary, and $64,000 in initial capital costs. CMS currently funds SROs at middle schools and high schools. Initially the SRO would be split between JV Washam and Cornelius Elementary.

—Add a customer service rep at Electricities. Currently customer service takes a back seat to higher priority accounting needs, creating longer waits for customers. An additional customer service representative would significantly reduce those delays. Approximate cost would be $27,000 annually. (Electricities serves the eastern segment of the town, and is partially funded by the town.)

Mayor Woody Washam | Photo by Jason Benavides

Next steps: A two-day budget workshop will be held in March, when the new property valuations are expected. The Town Manger will work with commissioners and department heads to develop a budget. It may go through several iterations before it must be approved by June 30. The revaluations will mean a much higher tax base, but commissioners may decide to reduce the tax rate so that it is “revenue neutral.”

“Revenue neutral budgets are always my target and I believe this board as well. We are very early in the budget process and hope citizens will step up and provide their input throughout the discussions,” Washam said.

—Dave Vieser contributed to this story.