‘Tighten belt,’ Columbus residents tell town council

Published 3:24 pm Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Columbus Town Council has been trying this week to cut its proposed budget to eliminate a proposed tax increase that has drawn criticism from some residents.

The town was previously considering a 2-cent tax increase as well as a 20 percent increase in water and sewer rates.

Town council agreed last Wednesday to try to eliminate the proposed tax increase. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for tomorrow night. The town’s meeting begins at 7 p.m.

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A few residents urged town council last week not to implement tax and water and sewer rate increases.

I realize times are tough all over, said resident Kathleen Kent. But residents income is not rising and the cost of living is.

Kent said there are areas in the budget that everyone would like to see funding for, but they are not critical during this difficult time.

Susan Johann said her concern is that the town is proposing to increase rates during a time when so many residents are unemployed and there are no social security increases.

Id like to see that we are really tightening our belts, Johann said. Id like to see were cutting something before we raise taxes.

Robbie Pack said Columbus knew the payments for water improvements were coming and urged council to put its foot down and show some leadership.

John Hicks said that people in the community dont have a pot they can dip into like the town does, speaking of the towns fund balance. He urged council to look at the budget long and hard and said hopefully the town can get through it without an increase.

Town council members have said through the budget process that they cannot continue to dip into fund balance to supplement the water and sewer fund. Last year the town used about $37,000 of fund balance for the water and sewer fund and received a letter of censure from the N.C. Local Government Commission. The town has so far used about $87,000 this year in fund balance and is expecting a stronger letter from the LGC this year.

I feel like weve cut all the fat we can, said councilman Michael Gage. The only other thing is employees and we have to run the town. Im thinking about this all day. Im working and Im thinking about the budget. All our revenues are way down and its worse than I ever thought.

Councilwoman Ernie Kan said she sees everyone else cutting back and Columbus is talking about increases.

I see the state and federal governments cutting back and everyone around us cutting back and were going up, Kan said.

A two cent tax increase in Columbus would mean about a $20 annual increase per year on a $100,000 home. Kan said that doesnt sound like much, but most homes in Columbus are worth more than $100,000. One penny in Columbus equals about $12,000 in tax revenue.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre said the town advertises the meetings and people know whats going on, but very few people show up to give input. Kan answered that a lot of people cant get out at night and mentioned that most people on council didnt attend meetings before they were elected or became part of the towns planning board.

The town is scheduled to adopt the budget Thursday night. The new fiscal year begins July 1.