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Wednesday, 12 June 2013 00:00

Waynesville proposes to hold line on taxes, hike water rates and licensing fees

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Waynesville officials are looking under a different couch cushion for additional revenue after losing income from sweepstakes operations and its ABC store.

 

The proposed budget for next fiscal year shows a $1.4 million increase in revenue compared to this year. However, that number is deceiving, according to Town Manager Marcy Onieal.

Pending approval from the N.C. House, Waynesville will merge with Lake Junaluska. Nearly all of the new revenue will come from properties added to Waynesville’s tax base once the merger takes place, but it will go right back out to pay for the increased costs of serving a larger population.

To bring in more discretionary income, town leaders have suggested adjusting its business privilege license rates.

“If the town is looking to generate more revenue, that is one way to do that,” said Tax Collector James Robertson.

The town currently charges each business a flat rate to operate within the town limit. No matter how much a business earns — $2,000 or $2 million — the owner pays the same thing.

Under the proposed new rate system, business earning $1 million or less would pay a $25 annual licensing fee. Those making more than $1 million would pay $0.50 per $1,000 in revenue.

For instance, a business earning $1,000,001 would pay $500 for a business license under the new plan.

“I believe it puts everything on a more equitable baseline,” Robertson said.

Towns including Sylva and Hendersonville are already on the revenue-based system.

However, the N.C. General Assembly’s Fair Tax Act could potential take licensing revenue away from municipalities, meaning Waynesville may only have the new rate system for a year.

“Is it worth making people mad for a years worth of revenue?” asked Mayor Gavin Brown.

Mostly, the change would affect box stores such as Wal-Mart, Ingles and Kmart, which typically budget for such expense. For that reason, Robertson said he did not foresee much of an uproar if the town moved forward with new rate system.

“I don’t see a lot of burning the stake outside the tax office,” Robertson said.

With a little more than 600 companies, the town typically collected about $20,000 each year.

This year, however, Waynesville brought in about $120,000 after sweepstakes parlors opened in town. The parlors were charged $2,500 for the first four machines and $750 for each subsequent machine. But the courts banned the video gambling found at those establishments in January, meaning that the town won’t have licensing fees from them as a source of revenue.

“That was a significant chunk for us to lose in a year,” Onieal said.

The town has also lost its chunk of income from its ABC store operations. Waynesville receives percentage of revenue from liquor sales at the store, but the town received nothing this year. And next year the story will be the same. A new ABC store is under construction on South Main Street, and all the earnings will go toward paying off the debt on the new building.

 

More people, more cars

The town of Waynesville may add 14.5 new positions to its payroll next fiscal year.

If the board of aldermen approves the proposed budget as is on June 25, then several departments will hire more hands. The increase in employees is the result of the likely Lake Junaluska and Waynesville merger.

Streets and sanitation will add four; water and wastewater maintenance will add three; the police department will get two more officers, while the fire department will add four new firefighters. The town will also hire an assistant horticulturalist and move one of its part-time administrative assistants to fulltime.

The new workers will help Waynesville provide services to Lake Junaluska. The emergency personnel — police officers and firefighters — are particularly crucial to ensure quality services.

Fire Chief Joey Webb said the additional four firefighters would enable the fire department to have three fulltime employees on the clock each shift and allow them to better respond to calls.

The department currently has 10 fulltime and four part-time employees, plus 30 volunteers. Each shift, two employees man Waynesville’s two fire stations, waiting for calls.

“What our paid people do is pretty much drive the truck,” Webb said. “The volunteers fight the fires.”

With the new firefighters, Webb can post two employees at the main fire station on North Main Street and one at the secondary station on Georgia Avenue each shift. The increase is much needed, Webb said.

“Historically, we have been understaffed,” he said, adding that the town still has more work to do to bring its staffing up to par.

For comparison, Webb told the board of alderman that in 1979, the fire department had seven paid staff and 24 volunteers — barely less than it has now. Back then the department received only 105 calls. In 2012, it received 1,854 calls, more than 15 times as many.

In addition to increasing the police and fire departments’ workforces, the town is also looking at purchasing two new fire vehicles and 15 new police cars. In total, the 17 vehicles would cost $548,000 and be paid off during a five-year period.

Typically, Waynesville replaces three police vehicles out every year. But Police Chief Bill Hollingsed has asked the town to switch to an assigned vehicle program, where each officer would have his or her own car. The officers would take the cars home with them and would not have to share the vehicle with another officer, which they do under the current system.

Since cops have to split use of the cars with co-workers, they must return the vehicles to the station at the end of their shift and take out their personal work equipment. Then the officer relieving them must install their equipment in the car. That is time they are not on patrol.

“We are losing 30 minutes per shift change per office per day,” Hollingsed said.

The lack of cars also keeps officers from responding to the scene quickly. Hollingsed said he has seen cops hop in the back of a pickup truck to head to an emergency because there were no vehicles available.

He said Waynesville is one of only two agencies in Western North Carolina that doesn’t have the assigned vehicle program, partly because of the price tag.

“The biggest issue is the upfront cost,” Hollingsed said. “The initial expense, agencies that haven’t done it, that is the hold up.”

However, the program saves money on the back end because the individual vehicles are used less often and therefore last almost twice as long as shared cars. They also have fewer maintenance problems because they are not running for days at a time.

Mayor Brown said he supported the change.

“It seems almost self-evident to me,” he said. “This is easy. This is a no-brainer to me personally.”

 

 

Budget Highlights

• Property tax rate of 40.8 cents per $100 of valuation is unchanged.

• Water and sewer rates will both go up 6 percent.

• A 2.1 percent increase for employee development and wellness incentives

• The town will add 14.5 new positions.

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