Thursday, 13 May 2021 17:55

Garbage, water/sewer fees slated for increase in Rockingham's proposed budget

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Rockingham's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for hikes in the garbage fee as well as water and sewer rates. Rockingham's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for hikes in the garbage fee as well as water and sewer rates. Pixabay

ROCKINGHAM — City residents won’t see a property tax increase this year, but several fees could go up.

In the budget message, City Manager Monty Crump proposes raising the garbage collection fee by $3 to help make up for the shortfall in sales tax revenue, stemming from a decision made by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners during last year’s budget season.

“Garbage fees are a user fee that spreads the cost burden across the board instead of just property owners,” Crump said, adding that increase should generate $133,200 in revenue.

Last year, Rockingham raised the property tax rate by $0.10 per $100 of value for the first time in two decades, in addition to adding $1.50 to the monthly garbage fee.

According to Crump, the additional property tax revenue made up for about 75% of the sales tax loss.

This year’s General Fund budget comes to $9,706,596 — more than $200,000 less than the current fiscal year.

Public safety (police and fire departments) make up nearly half of the city’s budget at a combined 48%.

Property taxes account for 41% of the city’s General Fund budget, with sales taxes and “other revenue” making up 18% each. Additional revenue streams include: state tax (9%); fund balance (8%); Powell Bill aid (5%); and building permits and fees (1%).

“Remarkably, most of the City's revenue sources have remained stable meaning the only need to raise taxes last year and fees this year is due to Richmond County's decision to change sales tax distribution method,” Crump continued.

The budget also includes a 3% hike in water and sewer rates — the first rise  in seven years —  that will add $198,000 and cover the cost increases and inter-fund reimbursements.

Even with that mark up, Crump said Rockingham’s rates would be lower than the state average and other local providers.

Crump said city workers have done “a remarkable job” dealing with the effects of both the sales tax allocation change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget allows for a 2% cost of living adjustment for the 133 full-time employees.

It also includes $587,135 for Capital Outlay requests and funds all non-governmental agencies, including Discovery Place Kids, at previous-year levels.

Crump has been very outspoken against the sales tax allocation change and did not hold back in the budget message:

“All entities both public and private have dealt with COVID-19 over the past year. Our challenge was also particularly daunting due to double the pressure to deal with sales tax loss due to Richmond County Board of Commissioners' actions last year. Rockingham, along with all Richmond County Municipalities are under pressure to survive and remain solvent because of Richmond County Board of Commissioners. That's simply not rhetoric but factual as bourne out by (Local Government Commission) placing all Richmond County municipalities on watch list over the last month specifically due to Richmond County Government. Last year we correctly stated that Richmond County had mismanaged itself into dire financial straits and they wanted everyone to go bankrupt with them. All facts and evidence since then have proven that prediction to be absolutely irrefutable! The proposed fee increase in this projected budget are not very palatable but are necessary to maintain current operations and level of services. Along with last year's tax increase, they are absolutely the result of Richmond County's ill advised decision to change the sales tax distribution. Additionally, all Municipalities are under added financial scrutiny by LGC as a direct result of the actions of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners. In order to be removed from the watch list, we must demonstrate that we are taking adequate steps to replace the loss of sales tax revenue while remaining financially stable. The tax increase last year and the fee increase this year are the financially responsible action to take to ensure financial stability while providing the services our citizens expect.”

(See the proposed Rockingham budget attached.)

Mayor Steve Morris told the RO Thursday that the county should be able to lower its tax rate — which was raised in 2018, following a decrease two years prior — due to the extra money it was receiving from the allocation change.

The council will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 19 at City Hall for a budget work session. The budget is expected to be adopted at the June meeting.