Salisbury's city budget plan includes 'tough choices'

Public safety remains top expense category

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Salisbury officials are proposing a $66.9 million spending package for fiscal 2022 that includes numerous fee increases made necessary after the Covid-19 pandemic depleted several of the city’s regular funding sources.

Among the shortfalls was money from city parking lots which remained open free of charge for months. Additionally, the city suspended utilities fees and code enforcement fines, and allowed water bills to accrue with no late fees and no interest or penalties assessed. The city also had higher landfill tipping fees with more people at home using the city trash service.

“The revenue lost from these measures, compounded by an almost total loss of our typical hotel and amusement tax revenues, along with increased costs, total in the millions of dollars,” said City Administrator Julia Glanz.

But while some fees will increase, this will be the fifth year in a row without a property tax increase, she said. The proposed budget maintains the current property tax rate of 98.32 cents per $100 of assessed value.

But an increase in fees is long overdue and had been discussed for years. Glanz said city officials “tried to be gentle” by making sure the proposed increases aren’t drastic.

Under the proposed fee schedule, water and sewer rates would increase across the board for all residential and commercial customers both inside and outside city limits.

For example, in-city residential and small commercial metered water users would see an increase in the minimum charge from $22.45 per quarter to $23.80 and a commodity charge increase from $3.35 to $3.55 per 1,000 gallons. Sewer rates for those same customers would increase from a minimum charge of $55.45 to $58.77 per quarter and a commodity charge increase from $8.31 to $8.81 per 1,000 gallons.

Large commercial users and customers outside city limits also will see increases on both their water and sewer bills.

Residential trash service fees will increase from $59 per quarter to $63. With more city residents working and going to school from home, the amount of household trash -- and the city’s bill at the landfill -- increased substantially over the past year, Glanz said.

Under the proposed fee changes, landlords would pay a license renewal fee of $75 — an increase from the current $60 -- if paid by March 1. After that, the fee would increase from $125 to $140 if paid after March 1 and from $225 to $270 after July 1.

Glanz said landlord licensing fees were due to be increased last year, but they were put on hold due to the pandemic.

Developers would face a development plan review fee increase from $450 to $1,000 and a water and sewer connection fee increase from $3,533 to $3,710.

The proposed budget also includes fee increases for EMS services and for monthly parking in city lots and the Downtown garage.

“Our current situation is different than any we’ve faced in the history of our city, and modest fee increases in the areas of water and sewer, stormwater, trash, and landlord licensing will allow us to keep the ship on course as we head into calmer waters,” Glanz said

During the next fiscal year, the city is projected to receive $27.7 million in combined real, personal and corporation taxes. Other revenue sources include $3 million from grants, $18.6 million from the water and sewer fund, $1.48 million from the stormwater fund, $839,803 from the parking fund and $54,000 from the marina fund.

The budget includes a $45.9 million general fund, with $27.6 million, or 60 percent, going to public safety. Of that, $13.6 million will go to the Police Department, with $11.9 going toward salaries, $1.4 million for operating expenses and $254,000 for capital expenses.

The Fire Department will receive $8.9 million, plus $401,733 for the volunteer side of the department. The budget includes adding 12 firefighter/EMT positions to the payroll starting in February 2022 and continuing through the end of the fiscal year. The positions currently are funded under a grant which will conclude in early 2022.

Public works is the next largest budget category at $5.35 million, followed by general government at $4.7 million, recreation and culture at $2.2 million, other uses at $1.6 million and $4.3 million for debt service.

City officials have also included $11.8 million for general capital improvement projects such as street paving, Downtown streetscaping and City Park improvements, and an addition $4.7 million in water and sewer capital projects.

The proposed budget has been sent to the City Council which could make some changes during upcoming work sessions. A first reading is planned for the April 26 council meeting, followed by final adoption in either late May or early June. The new budget will take effect on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.