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Cornelius News

Proposed budget keeps tax rate level

June 2. By Dave Vieser. The proposed Cornelius FY 2020-21 budget, which totals $24.3 million, 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.

A public hearing on Town Manager Andrew Grant’s budget was opened last night following his presentation to the commissioners. It will continue June 15 at an in-person meeting at Town Hall—the first since March due to the pandemic.

To view the proposed budget, click here.

Grant said the 2021 budget has 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.

Highlights of the proposed spending plan:

—Tax rate unchanged: The tax rate would remain at 0.222 cents per $100 assessed value. Town property taxes represent between one fourth and one third of the average annual homeowners bill, with the remainder being county taxes. A “no tax increase” budget has also been proposed by the county manager and may be adopted by county commissioners Tuesday evening June 2.

—Full time firefighters: $186,930 are budgeted to begin hiring full time firefighters. Currently the town only has part timers and volunteers. Grant suggests that the town begin to transition to a full-time career fire department in fiscal year 2021. The $186,930 specifically represents enough funds to hire six full-time firefighters in January 2021.

—Merit increase for employees: Grant has included $212,970 to cover an average 3 percent merit raise for all employees. The board is split on this proposal. Commissioner Mike Miltich has suggested that the raises be eliminated or at least delayed, and he may have the backing of at least one other board member, Tricia Sisson. Other board members support the raises for the full year and Mayor Woody Washam, while not a voting board member, has also spoken in favor of the merit raises in previous comments.

—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: Initial plans to hike electric rates in July of this year were delayed a year, and a 4.9% rate hike in each of four years will instead be implemented beginning July 2021.

—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.

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, buying12 Police body cameras, a residency incentive for Sworn Police Officers, and a computer replacement program.

—Also eliminated from the 2021 budget are funds for the town’s repaving program due to a cut in state funding.

Budget deadlines

Per state law, the budget must be adopted by June 30. The board expects to schedule a special meeting between June 15 and June 30 to adopt the budget.