Bladenboro board whiffs on budget issue

Erin Smith Staff writer

June 17, 2014

BLADENBORO — The Bladenboro Town Council met for a budget work session Monday and reviewed a rather bleak 2014-15 budget one week after a proposed budget was tabled. Though there was a large crowd gathered, no one addressed the board during the work session.

Interim Town Administrator Melanie Hester presented the board with two possible budget scenarios — one gave the board an idea what the budget and fund balance would look like with a 2-cent per $100 valuation property tax increase and what it would look like without any tax increase.

In addition to learning the town’s fund balance is declining, Hester also reminded the board that the privilege license fees currently charged by the town will also be going away due to action by the General Assembly.

“The privilege license (amount) for Bladenboro is about $4,000 right now,” said Hester.

She added there are also concerns about the current revaluation which is under way in the county. Hester told the board the housing market took a hit in property values after the last revaluation in 2007. She said she had spoken with Bladen County Tax Administrator Chris Ellis and “his best estimate is the town will break even” on the property values generated by the current revaluation process.

Hester told the board that with a 2-cent property tax increase, the fund balance would be about $58,660; without a property tax increase, the fund balance at the end of the next fiscal year would be about $4,561.

Councilman Everett Butler told the board that former Town Administrator Delane Jackson had offered to meet with Hester to go over the budget, and would be willing to offer any assistance he could.

“I fell like we owe it to the citizens of this town to give every advantage we can,” said Butler of the offer.

But the motion made by Butler to allow Jackson to meet with Hester died for lack of a second.

Councilman Timothy Benton asked Hester about the possibility implementing a one-half to one-quarter cent sales tax, noting that a sales tax would take the burden off the property owners.

Hester said that she would have to read up on the requirement for a sales tax referendum and what authority, if any, a town has when comes to a sales tax. She further explained that, currently, sales taxes are paid to the county and a pro rata share is returned to the town, which translates to about $148,000 to 160,000.

There were also concerns expressed about the increases in the cost of insurance the town provides its employees. Hester told the board that the current plan was grandfathered in under the new health care laws, but the board will have to look at implementing a new plan next year. Hester said Bladenboro’s insurance plan increased by about 29.5 percent to $1,464 per year per employee.

Also, the proposed budget carries no cost of living adjustment for employees. Hester noted that the projections the board had before them does not allow a COLA for the next three years.

“I can see where past boards worked to keep taxes down,” said Councilman Terry Nance. He added that, with no revenue streams available, no more assets to sale and the cost of insurance increasing, the board isn’t left with much choice.

“When the rubber meets the road, it’s going to be tough not to raise taxes from my view. Do I want to? I’d rather not …” said Nance.

After further discussion regarding the cost of utilities, Hester told the board that the best case scenario is a 2-cent property tax increase.

“We have more expenditures than we have money coming in … we’ve got to reverse that trend,” said Councilman Jeff Atkinson.

The board voted to adjourn the meeting and reconvene on Monday, June 23, at 7 p.m.