(photo: City Council meets spread out around the chambers)
By Ken MacDonald •
Meeting spread apart in chambers Monday morning, Raeford City Council members heard City Manager Dennis Baxley’s proposed $6.5 million budget for the next fiscal year.
He told the board there would be no increase to the tax rate— 48 cents per hundred-dollar valuation—nor would there be increases in user fees. A planned 5 percent increase in water rates is still in the works, and will result in a 90-cents-per-month hike for customers who use 5,000 gallons of water. Baxley said most Raeford customers use 2,000 to 3,000 gallons.
He said because schools and some businesses are shut, water and sewer revenues are “going to be impacted—probably greatly.”
“Just based on some information I’m been getting,” he said, “it doesn’t look like the schools are going to get crank up again in August. If they do it will be on some modified schedule. I’ve heard varying scenarios—maybe half a class come on Monday-Tuesday, the other half come Wednesday—Thursday…if they can find enough masks.”
The budget includes a 1.5 percent cost of living increase for employees, but no merit increases. Employees’ 401K contributions would be cut from 5 percent to 4 percent to make up for a 10 percent increase in insurance rates. “If we’re not going to contribute as much to our 401k, this is probably the year,” he said. “I’m scared to look at mine.”
There aren’t many capital improvements budgeted this year, Baxley said. Some water main valves are the most expensive items (12 for $84,750).
The budget proposal fails to provide funds for three organizations that requested money: The Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Raeford Business Association and the Hoke Re-entry Program. Baxley cited guidance from the School of Government that checks and balances be in place to ensure money contributed by Raeford serve Raeford citizens. He said the school recommended sponsorships. Funding is allocated for the Raeford-Hoke Museum ($20,000); The Children’s Developmental Center ($20,000); The Raeford Volunteer Firemen’s Association ($17,000); Rescue Squad ($10,000); Literacy Council ($3,500); and Farm/City Week ($1,000).
Baxley reported a 156 percent fund balance if the budget is adopted.
Council will meet again to approve the budget.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was limited to 10 people (11 with a News-Journal reporter), though there seemed to be no other citizens attempting to attend. Council members sat scattered around chambers to keep away from other members.