03/31/10 — Mount Olive officials say taxes likely to stay same

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Mount Olive officials say taxes likely to stay same

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 31, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Faced with rising expenses and payments on its new sewer treatment plant, the town of Mount Olive likely will increase sewer rates by 5 percent to avoid raising property taxes.

The Mount Olive Board of Commissioners, Mayor Ray McDonald, Town Manager Charles Brown and town department heads met informally Tuesday night at Mount Olive College to give Brown feedback on what the town leaders want to see in a 2010-11 budget. The meeting was not official, and board members could not vote nor take action on any item.

Brown presented two sample budgets to give the board members a look at their options.

One included a 2.5 percent pay raise for most town employees, additional funding for the town's parks and recreation program, money to buy surplus vehicles and other equipment for the town and money dedicated to demolishing condemned buildings.

The second version of the budget, the one that the commissioners and mayor told Brown to pursue, did not include any of those funding items and added in a 5 percent sewer rate increase.

The town manager said he hopes that by "cutting to the bone" and keeping to a tight budget for the next 12 months, the town will be able to add more than $250,000 total to its general fund and water and sewer fund. The money is needed for the town to cover its debt service for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Brown said.

McDonald said that based on his informal canvass of residents, people would prefer an increase in their sewer bill to a tax hike.

"We're getting in a critical situation, the town is," he said.

Department heads, including Chief of Police Ralph Schroeder and Mount Olive Fire Department Chief Steve Martin, were among those who discussed the rising costs their departments are facing.

Police equipment such as bulletproof vests, gun ammunition and even rain coats have become much more expensive in recent years, with some items nearly doubling in cost, Schroeder said. Martin said that the cost of training a volunteer firefighter has risen sharply in the last decade, with insurance for his firefighters and the cost of required certification classes also going up.

Additionally, Mount Olive will also be required this year to dedicate an additional $31,000 to the employee retirement fund, and may lose thousands more in beer and wine revenue if the state chooses to withhold that money for a second year in a row.

"I don't have any indication in the world they're going to release that money this year," Brown said.

The 2009-10 state withholding on beer and wine tax cut out about $16,000 that otherwise would have been added to the town budget.

To keep to the proposed budget and save the approximately $258,000 for the fund balance, Brown said that the board will have to resist requests for additional funding for many groups seeking financial support.

"We're going to have to say we simply do not have the money to do this this year," he said.