Creation of a new Central City police district, replacement of aging police, fire and public works vehicles, emphasis on community appearance and further pay adjustments to address attrition in the Police and Fire departments highlight the $442 million budget for 2016-17 that City Manager Lee Garrity has recommended to Mayor Allen Joines and the City Council.
Thanks to growth in sales taxes and the tax base, the recommended budget addresses pent-up demands in the areas of personnel, equipment and facilities that were put on hold during the economic recession.
“The city has reached a critical point,” Garrity said, “where more investment is needed in our employees, facilities and equipment to maintain our excellent city services, enhance the quality of life in the community and position the city to be more competitive in attracting jobs and growing economically.”
The proposed budget allocates $326.5 million for operations, $41.5 million for debt service and $74 million for capital improvements. The property tax rate would be 58.5 cents for every $100 of value, an increase of 2 cents.
In his budget message, Garrity noted that even with the 2-cent increase, “Based on the current tax rates of the other large cities in North Carolina, Winston-Salem’s rate would remain in the middle of the group.”
He noted that tax increases in recent years, with the exception of the bonds passed in 2014, simply made up for revenue lost through actions of the General Assembly and did not actually address these needs.
The City Council’s Finance Committee will begin reviewing the budget June 7 and will hold a public hearing June 9. The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the budget on June 20. By state law, the council must adopt a budget for 2016-2017 by June 30. The budget would take effect July 1.
Garrity is recommending that the city add a net gain of 40 more employees (45 new positions and five eliminated) to implement a broad range of improvements:
- The Police Department would pick up 14 positions. Five positions would allow creation of a fourth police district that would reduce response times in the central part of Winston-Salem and improve coordination during special events downtown. Five positions, paid for by the county, would result from consolidation of the Sheriff’s Department forensic services staff into a combined city-county forensic services unit. Four positions would be added for crime analysis and information systems.
- The Fire Department would add five positions: three fire training and safety officers, a fire truck mechanic, and the first of three fire inspectors to be hired over the next three years. The latter would eliminate the need for firefighters to conduct fire code inspections, giving them more time for training and other duties.
- Stormwater Management would add a civil engineer and four-person drainage crew that would work with citizens whose property is affected by stormwater runoff.
- Property and Facilities Management would add six positions to create two crews that would collect litter along roadsides and in city parks.
- Six positions would be added for facilities built with money from the 2014 bonds: three in recreation to maintain new spraygrounds, and three property maintenance personnel to maintain new buildings, such as the district police stations.
- A total of nine other positions would be added to a variety of departments, including Transportation, the Fairgrounds, Utilities, Human Resources, and Community and Business Development.
The operations budget would include raises for city employees. Police officers and certified firefighters would receive a 2 percent increase in January, on top of the 2 percent increase and the 7.5 percent increase in starting salaries they received in February. To address continuing attrition among experienced police officers, all officers with 5 to 15 years of service would receive additional pay raises, effective July 1, ranging from $1,200 to $2,300.
Garrity is recommending that all other city employees receive a 3 percent pay raise to make city salaries more competitive with the private sector. All city employees, including police and fire personnel, would also be eligible for a merit-pay increase of 1.5 to 3 percent based on their performance. “The city’s pay plan continues to lag behind average actual salaries in our market,” Garrity said. “As a result, we constantly experience challenges with retaining employees.”
To improve employee retention across the board, Garrity is also recommending that the city initiate a 401(a) supplemental retirement plan under which the city would put an amount equal to 2 percent of each employee’s pay in a retirement account that would become vested after five years of service. If approved, it would take effect Jan. 1.
The proposed budget for capital improvements includes $3.54 million in lease payments to replace aging police cars, fire trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks and other public works equipment, as well as computers and other equipment used by city employees, all of which have been kept in service longer than planned.
It also includes $56.1 million for water, sewer and stormwater projects and $550,000 to continue upgrading the fiber-optic network that connects city facilities. The capital budget does not include the bond projects that voters approved in November 2014, which were handled in a separate appropriation.
User fees would remain the same except for Utilities Division fees: Sewer rates would increase 3 percent, water rates would increase 1.5 percent and the bimonthly base charge for residential water and sewer service would increase $2.49. Landfill fees for high-volume users would increase 50 cents per ton, to $32.
The proposed budget includes $544,270 for downtown improvements, financed by the 9 cent levy recommended by the Downtown Winston-Salem Business Improvement District Advisory Committee. The money would be spent in five areas: improving cleanliness, increasing safety, improving marketing, accelerating development and enhancing downtown appearance.
How to participate in the budget process:
- Copies of the proposed budget will be available for review at public libraries, city recreation centers and City Hall, 101 N. Main St. Suite 30. The proposed budget will also be posted online at www.CityofWS.org.
- The City Council’s Finance Committee will hold workshops on the budget at 3:30 p.m. June 7 and 4:30 p.m. June 13 in the Council Committee Room (Room 239) on the second floor of City Hall. A workshop will be held at 2 p.m. June 14, if needed. These workshops are open to the public but are for the purpose of allowing council members to study the proposed budget. Citizens may watch these workshops live on WSTV on TimeWarner Cable channel 13 and AT&T U-verse channel 99 in Forsyth County. WSTV can also be viewed live online at CityofWS.org.
- The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 9 in the Council Chamber (Room 230) on the second floor of City Hall. This hearing will be televised live by WSTV.
- The Public Safety Committee will review the budgets for the Police, Fire and Emergency Management departments at 6 p.m. June 13 in the Council Committee Room. This meeting will be televised live by WSTV.
- The mayor and City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 20 in the Council Chamber before voting on the budget. This hearing will be televised live by WSTV.
- Citizens can also phone in comments about the budget on the city’s Citizen Feedback line, 734-1400, or submit comments through a form on the city website.
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