Saluda looks to make major cuts in new budget

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Saluda Board of Commissioners is working to cut more than $80,000 from its recommended budget for next fiscal year after rejecting a proposal to stay at the city&39;s current property tax rate of 54 cents per $100 of valuation.

The majority of commissioners last month disagreed with the proposal and stated they do not support a tax hike.

City council is holding a budget workshop on Monday at 5:30 at the Saluda Public Library to further discuss the next year&39;s budget, which will take effect July 1.

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During the city&squo;s May budget workshop, finance officer Ron Cole recommended that the city not reduce its tax rate even with the recent property revaluation by the county. He noted the city has borrowed from its fund balance the last two years to balance the budget. Cole reported that if the city went with a revenue neutral with growth rate tax next year, the city would face an approximate $86,000 deficit.

Saluda&squo;s revenue neutral with growth tax rate would be 45 cents, but that would require commissioners to make drastic cuts to the budget proposal.

The city&squo;s true revenue neutral tax rate is 41 cents per $100 of valuation following the reval, which would mean the city would bring in the same amount of property and vehicle tax revenue as the current year budget.

The proposed budget also includes a $4.50 per month increase in the water and sewer base fee and a three percent increase for garbage collection.

The recommended budget at the 54-cent tax rate includes a cost of living increase in July and a merit increase for employees in January, except for the city clerk and finance officer.

The city is also currently seeking a permanent police chief and other staffing is proposed to remain the same next year in the police department at a chief, a sergeant and two duty officers.

Commissioners last month discussed the possibility of eliminating capital improvement requests in the amount of $67,000 to help balance the budget at the revenue neutral plus growth rate. Capital improvements proposed include a main server/GIS for $10,000, new roofs on parks buildings at $10,000, city hall renovation plans at $15,000, security cameras at $12,000 and public restrooms on Main Street at $20,000. The city is also looking at financing a new police vehicle, for which costs were unknown last month.

&dquo;I can tell you up front that I&squo;m not for increasing taxes,&dquo; said commissioner Leon Morgan. &dquo;We need to take a long, hard look at this.&dquo;

Commissioners John Morgan and Laura Fields also expressed they are not in favor of increasing taxes last month and Mayor Rodney Gibson directed the finance officer to come back with another proposal that assumes the city will collect 98 percent of its property taxes instead of Cole&squo;s original estimate at 94 percent as well as other less conservative estimates.

Commissioners agreed to look at cuts and speak to department heads to help officials figure out what the city can live without next fiscal year.

The city must have an approved budget by June 30. Council will likely call a special meeting later this month to hold a public hearing and to approve the new budget.