By Jesse Wood
May 21, 2013. In the coming weeks, the Boone Town Council will take a hard look at expenditures and revenues for the upcoming budget year.
As Boone Town Council Member Andy Ball said on Tuesday, “We have to identify $2 million in cuts.”
Ball was referring to the decision by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners to redistribute the sales tax on an ad valorem basis rather than a per capita basis, which benefited Boone because of its large population. Republican Commissioners Nathan Miller, Perry Yates and David Blust voted for the switch, while Democratic Commissioners Billy Kennedy and John Welch opposed the redistribution..
While the county commissioners have already combed through their budget with two budget work sessions and will hold a public hearing on that tonight, the work is just beginning for the Boone Town Council.
Ball said that heads of town departments were recently asked to cut a percentage of their budgets from the current year and submit those to Town Manager Greg Young, who will then create a draft document by the end of May.
Ball added that council members will soon comb through those figures at upcoming budget retreats and then the Boone Town Council will hold a public hearing at its first council meeting in June.
Council Member Lynne Mason said the town will hold a budget meeting on Wednesday, May 29, at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the matters at hand. Mason was reluctant to speak about specifics of the upcoming budget before meeting with her fellow council members.
“I think it’s too early to make any statement until we have a chance to meet as a body on how we will approach this,” Mason said. “I think everyone has some individual thoughts going on, but until we have had an opportunity to meet, I think its premature to make any statement.”
Personally, Ball said he has identified $1.2 million dollars in cuts with a red pen and “marked some things we can do without for one year.”
A good question, Ball said, is whether the Town of Boone uses discretionary funds that it has saved for greenway projects, sidewalks, capital projects, downtown improvements and so forth.
“We would like to fund these projects as they come available. I don’t think this year we will see a lot [of high-dollar undertakings] under the current circumstances,” Ball said. “I am planning to put some questions out there in my circles and media outlets and figure out a good feeling of what folks want to cut this year because $2 million dollars is quite a bit of money. That’s ten percent of our current budget.”
“It’s a huge chunk, a large percentage that cuts into the real meat and bone of what the town does for residents and citizens and I am very concerned about the impacts of those kinds of cuts,” Ball said. “We are looking at ways to increase revenues without having to increase property tax. We don’t’ want to cut essential services and value to residents.”
Those services, Ball noted, included police protection, recycling, street maintenance and so forth. Police Chief Dana Crawford didn’t immediately return a phone call on Tuesday.
Because of the sales tax switch to ad valorem basis, the county is required to appropriate a certain percentage of revenues to fire districts in Watauga County. So with the redistribution, the Boone Fire District receives $232,638 for the upcoming year as opposed to the $19,000 the county currently funds the Boone Fire District.
As for nonprofit allocations, Ball said that was a “big question mark.” He added that he has informally asked the county to consider funding nonprofits additional needs that the Town of Boone won’t be able to address this year like it has in the past.
Following the Watauga County Board of Commissioner’s April vote on redistributing the sales tax, the Town of Boone released a four-page statement, which included: “The loss of 2 million dollars in the sales tax distribution will be devastating to the citizens and businesses in the Town of Boone as there will need to be a drastic cut in services and programs. It will affect the Town’s ability to provide services to its residents and to those who work here and vacation here.”
The statement went on to say that Boone was at a disadvantage with the ad valorem distribution because 32 percent of property in town is off the books due to ASU, government entities, churches and nonprofits owning land valued at $608 million.
According to figures from fiscal year 2008-09 (the last fiscal year the state reported the amount received by municipality), Boone reported in its statement that:
- Two-thirds of the sales tax generated in Watauga County came from within the corporate limits of the town of Boone.
- Even under the more beneficial current per capita method of distribution of the sales tax, Boone only received about 25 percent of what was distributed in Watauga County.
- If the distribution had been changed to the ad valorem method, Boone would have received approximately 12 percent of what was distributed in Watauga County. Applied this year, it is estimated to be a loss of approximately two million dollars.
On Tuesday, Ball added, “We are all hoping next year the commission comes to its senses and switches back … It’s going to be tough for a year or two but we will get through it.”
Calls to Town Manager Greg Young, Mayor Loretta Clawson and Finance Director Amy Davis were not returned.
What do you think? What would you prefer to be cut this year from the budget? What do you think is or is not expendable?