By Clint Parker
Woodfin – Cut staff, cut services or raise taxes and fees. That was what Woodfin Aldermen heard Tuesday (March 26) at the town’s budget retreat held at the town hall. Woodfin Town Administrator Jason Young made it clear that, financially, things could not continue as they were in Woodfin.
The town has already spent more than $200,000 of their fund balance to date this year meaning that the municipality is over their budget by that much. There’s still about three months to go before the end of the fiscal year. Young outlined the current revenue streams, along with future expenditures including a bond referendum to pay for the Greenway/BlueWave which taxpayers voted to approved a couple of years ago.
The increase in property tax rate for the bond alone amounts to a mandatory five cents increase. Woodfin residents currently enjoy the lowest tax rate of any of the municipalities in the county at 28 cents, but the rate will be hard for the aldermen to hold in the new budget.
Young told the board over the last several budgets that “…staff had repeatedly proposed incremental tax increases to cover rising cost across all budget categories. We have instead deferred those tax increases by looking for expenditure reductions, holding back on certain purchases and maintaining some fee increases.”
Young said, “In order to maintain present levels of service provisions, let alone expand services, you have basically four choices.” He then outlined those choices: reduce or eliminate personnel and services; “dramatically increase” fees and billable services [like garbage pick-up]. “The reason I say dramatically is because the only way to close that figure would be some major ones,” Young explained. While raising fees on certain types of activities and businesses in the town will narrow the gap between revenue and spending,
Young admitted, “The downside of that is that there’s really no way to cobble together enough money out of that to offset the entirety of shortfall.”His last two recommendations were to significantly increase the ad valorem tax [property taxes] or a combination of the previously mentioned proposals. He then addressed the pros and cons of each of the recommendations.
He pointed out that all categories of the budget were going to rise during the next budget year and even without any additional staffing. He said the increases are mainly due to costs associated with salaries and benefits, such as health care. He also talked about the voluntary tax that voters chose to take on when they voted for the bond referendum.
Alderman Don Hensley wondered if the board had under-budgeted or overspent, and asked to see what caused the shortfall. Young said he would get the board that information. The current property tax rate is the same rate town residents paid in 1999. While the percentage has increased in the past, it was reduced several years ago and has held at the 28 cents level since.
Young compared the increase to a lot of everyday items people pay for (such as cable or internet fees or even paying a soda). That the rise of an additional five cents which staff is proposing (a total of 10 cents when you include the referendum money) includes a number of benefits the town’s residents are receiving. “So in exchange for less than any one of these fees here people incur without really thinking about it or complaining too much about the price of…you get garbage pick-up, recycling, brush pick-up, police…” said Young.
According to Young, about every one-cent in property tax increase generates about $90,000 in tax revenue. The board has to June 30 of this year to pass next year’s budget.