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Differing Views on Blowing Rock’s Proposed Budget That Includes Property Tax and Water & Sewer Fee Increases

By Jesse Wood

May 15, 2014. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15 that the Blowing Rock Town Council will tweak in upcoming work sessions before adopting in June includes an increase to the property tax rate and an increase to water and sewer fees, according to the recommended budget released earlier this week.

These tax and fee increases are “to help invest in the facilities and staff members who deliver the high-quality service levels every day to the citizens of Blowing Rock,” according to the budget message from Town Manager Scott Fogleman.

The recommended tax rate includes an increase of 1.8 cents for every $100, resulting in an overall proposed property tax rate of 30.5 cents per $100. According to a press release from the Town of Blowing Rock, “This increase would result in an additional tax amount owed of $90 per year for a home valued at $500,000.”

The budget message notes that the property rate has remained the same for the past eight fiscal years. The proposed increase was contributed to the 2.34 percent – or $24.1 million – decline of real property value as a result of Watauga County’s property revaluation that went into effect at the beginning of the year.

“Applying the reduction in value of 2.34% to the average annual growth in the tax base in Blowing Rock of 1.1%, the revenue neutral rate for Fiscal Year 2015 is 28.7 cents per $100 of property valuation.  Because the tax base dropped, the 28.7 cents is higher than the current rate of 28.0 cents, in order to generate the same amount of revenue. Individual property owner results may vary, as these are averages for the entire Town,” the budget message reads.

Reached on Thursday, Councilman Al Yount emphasized the term “proposed by manager.”

“Do you get my drift?” Yount said. “It sort of took the oxygen out of my room.”

As for the water and sewer fees, Yount seemed more accepting in both tone and words.

“That has to be a self-sustaining situation, and we haven’t really looked closely at it,” Yount said. “I would say the manager has good figures on that.”

Mayor J.B. Lawrence noted that Fogleman has done an outstanding job while stating that he thinks the property tax increase is “necessary.”

“We’ve gone eight years without an increase and to just increase it less than two cents, [Fogleman] has done a yeoman’s job of creating the new budget.”

As for the water and sewer fees, Lawrence added, “That’s a necessary evil as well.”

The other council members couldn’t be immediately reached on Thursday morning.

Staff officially presented the recommended budget at the Blowing Rock Town Council on Tuesday. A printed copy is available for the public to review at Town Hall, located at 1036 Main Street in Blowing Rock. A copy is also available online at www.townofblowingrock.com.

The Blowing Rock Town Council will meet Tuesday through Thursday in Town Hall, beginning at 5:30 p.m., to discuss the budget during work sessions.

A public hearing will be held on the budget at a Blowing Rock Town Council meeting on Tuesday, June 10 – the same meeting that the council is expected to adopt the budget with any amendments approved by the council.

From the press release on the budget:

  • Utility Rates

 “In terms of utility rates, our customer demand for water has been gradually declining over the past decade and our utility customer base has remained fairly steady, offering fewer gallons among which to spread the largely fixed costs of providing dependable water and sewer services.  To help ensure the system is able to recover its costs and not be subsidized by tax revenues, a $2.00 base increase for both water and sewer is being recommended along with a $0.25 increase in the per thousand gallon rate for gallons consumed greater than 5,000 per two month billing period.  These impacts are expected to increase a typical customer’s bill by 5.4% in the coming year.   In helping to streamline the billing processes, the current $37 base fee for Non-Benefited Users (NBU) is being eliminated.  In addition, the interconnection fee of $1.00 per month is being reduced to $0.50 as sufficient interconnection revenues have been collected so far to warrant the reduction and still be able to meet the related debt service payment.”

  • Other Budget Items

“With the average annual tax base growth of 1.1% for the last 8 years, and inflation having crept forward 13% over that same time period, it has become increasingly difficult to afford operating cost increases including those necessary to attract and retain the staff members that are so critical to consistently provide the high service levels our citizens expect and deserve.  The Fiscal Year 2015 Recommended Budget totals $9,399,667 including $6.1 million for the general government activities, $1.7 million for the water and sewer operations, and $1.5 million for capital projects.  Included in the capital budget for the coming year is a $1.2 million renovation of the Town’s Public Works site which includes a new building and storage that will both help extend the life of major equipment.  Also included in the capital plan is an investment in information technology for the Town that will include new servers that backup one another, fiber connections between major facilities, the capability to stream Council meetings, have videos of Council meetings available on the web, and public wireless access along the Main Street corridor downtown.”