POUND — When Town Council convenes its July meeting on Tuesday, rates and fees are up for public hearing in the last piece of a financial plan for the new fiscal year that began July 1.
The proposed rates are incorporated into the 2019-20 budget council adopted at a special called meeting June 25, having recessed its earlier regular meeting over a procedural misstep on public notice.
The financial plan doesn't raise taxes and holds level all rates and fees except water and sewer rates, where increases are applied across the board.
The advertised public hearing shows a 25-cent increase on the base in-town water rate for up to 1,000 gallons, and 41 cents more on the base rate for out-of-town customers. Sewer hikes followed the same trend, but with bigger increases — 62 cents on the base in-town rate, and 93 cents more on the out-of-town customers.
Per-thousand usage rates for over the minimum jumped, too — 15 cents on water and 23 cents on sewer for in-town customers. Those out of town would see increases of 33 cents on water and 49 cents on sewer.
The new budget reflects a surplus of $273 in the water fund and $40,825 in the sewer fund.
The water and sewer rate increases are required by lenders in contractual agreements and help repay debt that funds improvements to the town's water and sewer systems.
The budget council just adopted includes roughly $3.4 million in state funding for a big sewer system project and skyrockets total sewer revenue projections over the fiscal year just ended, from about $628,000 to more than $4.75 million.
Otherwise, even with rate increases, town water revenues reflect a drop from just over $626,000 to a little more than $607,000.
General fund revenues also are projected to decline, to just under $800,000 from almost $825,600 in the 2018-19 budget year.
Councilman Clifton Cauthorne was the only "no" vote against the budget.
Cauthorne praised the structure of the utility rate increases for putting the heaviest burden on customers who live outside town limits and don't pay town taxes. But he couldn't overcome other budget objections.
"The police department is now over 50 percent of our General Fund expenditures," he said in an email, and two, the "budget is balanced on an additional $25,000 in line-of-credit borrowing." The total police department budget is just more than $400,000, up about $10,000 over last year, all in wages.
Asked for observations about the new budget, other council members did not respond.
The adopted budget as advertised shows a general fund revenue drop of $25,760 even though a line-item budget appears to project a range of increased collections across about a third of revenue categories.
Along with smaller increases, the town expects to pick up about $3,000 more each in coal severance taxes and in transfers from its water fund for truck leasing, almost $4,000 more in delinquent personal property taxes, about $2,000 more each in cigarette taxes, utility taxes and sales and use taxes and about $1,000 more in real estate taxes and in meals taxes.
The financial plan projects level collections across all remaining revenue categories except business license revenue, where it reflects a drop of $5,000.
In looking at year-over-year comparisons, the advertised totals for the three funds as amended in the 2018-19 budget don't match the same totals listed on the budget spreadsheet provided by the town clerk/treasurer, whom council assigned budget duties.
Last year's general fund amended revenue totals were listed in the spreadsheet as $782,064, versus the advertised $825,594. Water fund revenues for 2018-19 as amended were shown as $648,086 as compared to the advertised $626,180. Sewer fund revenues for last year were $620,006 versus the advertised $628,106.
A series of emails beginning on May 23 asks for explanation of the discrepancies and for the amended 2018-19 budget, with repeated emails on June 7 and again on June 10.
In a June 11 email, which included the proposed budget spreadsheet and the budget summary for public notice, Clerk Treasurer Jeremy Mullins noted that "Columns H and J are the only columns that would be used for comparison in the spreadsheet."
Column H is the amended 2018-19 budget and Column J is the proposed budget for 2019-20.
A request for explanation of the differences was emailed again following adoption of the budget, on June 26 and June 27. Mullins replied June 27, requesting a phone call "as we do not appear to be getting anywhere over email."
In a July 3 phone call, Mullins said what appeared in the public notice were the accurate numbers and spoke of formula problems with the spreadsheet as well as the complications of working from a budget document originally started by Mayor George Dean that was confusing.
Mullins stressed issues with the budget line-item spreadsheet and insisted focus should be on what was advertised. That notice contained summaries only.
Becoming agitated with the back-and-forth over the same question, Mullins ultimately said he did not have time to go back and redo every single line item of the spreadsheet for the amended 2018-19 budget.
Advised that was not the request, Mullins finally said, "I don't have what you are asking for."
But the request was just for the 2018-19 amended budget, the reporter pressed in exasperation. Mullins interpreted the tone as laughing. "I'm glad you think this is funny," he said, then mentioned something about not quoting him.
Advised that that was the point of the emails and phone call, Mullins replied, "you didn't tell me that," ranted about "write whatever you want to" and then hung up on the reporter.