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Cornelius News

Tax rate stays flat as town adopts new spending plan

June 19. By Dave Vieser. The town’s $24.3 million Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget, which Mayor Woody Washam called the “toughest budget preparation process one could ever imagine,” was unanimously adopted at a special town board meeting last night.

The spending plan, which takes effect July 1, will keep the town’s property tax rate at .222 per $100 of assessed valuation while including funds to start hiring full-time firefighters for the first time in the town’s history.

There was little controversy about the budget as only four citizens commented during the entire two-week public hearing period, and none opposed the budget itself.

The 2021 budget was almost a mirror image of the current budget. For example, police spending increased from $6.7 million to $6.76 million (about 1 %); public works actually decreased by a similar percentage, and parks also went down from $2.06 million to $2.05 million.

Nevertheless, Town Manager Andrew Grant said preparing the 2021 budget had been “a real challenge” in view of the revenue losses caused by the pandemic.

“The challenge of this year’s budget preparation has been to project the impacts of COVID on the Town’s revenues while still providing for services to our Cornelius community,” Grant said.

Commissioners praised Grant and his staff for their efforts. “He and his staff always provided complete, thorough and detailed answers to all the questions I had,” said Commissioner Jim Duke. “They really did a phenomenal job.”

Highlights of the budget:

—Tax rate unchanged: The tax rate will remain at 0.222 cents per $100 assessed value. Local property taxes represent between one fourth and one third of the average annual homeowners bill, with the remainder being county taxes. Historically Cornelius has had one of the lowest tax rates in the county.

—Full time firefighters: This is one department where spending went up, by $186,930. These funds are budgeted to begin hiring full-time firefighters. Currently the town only has part timers and volunteers.


—Merit increase for employees: Grant included $212,970 to cover an average 3 percent merit raise for all employees. Mayor Washam said the increases were designed to “allow some of our really good employees to continue to catch up with competitive market pay.” Initially, Commissioners Mike Miltich and Tricia Sisson had suggested that the raises be eliminated or at least delayed. However, at Thursday’s meeting, Sisson said she had received feedback from many citizens on this issue and would now support the merit raise pool. “I would ask however that staff watch our expenditures and revenues very carefully during the course of the next 12 months as we enter a likely recessionary period.”

—State mandates: The budget includes $139,000, a 1.6 percent increase, to cover higher costs which the town must pay into the state retirement system.

—Electricities rate hike:  A 4.4 percent rate hike in each of five years will be implemented beginning July 2021 to fund deferred maintenance projects on the system, including a new substation.

—Timing of purchases: In light of the unknown fiscal circumstances the town faces, Grant said he would consider moving the purchase of some big-ticket capital items in the budget, such as a new fire truck and police vehicles, to the latter part of the fiscal year in order to provide some additional fiscal flexibility.

Delaying expenditures

Several other items which were originally slated for inclusion in the 2021 budget have also been pushed back to the latter part of the fiscal year including:

—Filling two Police Officer vacancies, buying 12 Police body cameras, a residency incentive for Sworn Police Officers, and a computer replacement program.

—Totally eliminated from the 2021 budget are funds for the town’s repaving program due to a cut in state funding. This will not impact on planned work in Antiquity near Old Canal Street.