City Council Passes Budget

The Winston-Salem City Council passed its more than $500 million budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 at its meeting Monday night after several weeks of discussion. Here are some of the highlights.

  • A one-cent property tax increase to account for the loss of software tax revenue next year in addition to tax increases of 4.5 and 6.7 percent for water and sewer services respectively.
  • Increases in merit pay of city of employees at rates between 1.5 and 3 percent based on performance ratings. The council also set the minimum wage at $10.10 per hour.
  • The elimination of the West End Trolley, which is projected to save $116,000. That money will be transferred into the public transit fund.
  • The purchase of five new boom trucks for brush collection at a cost of $145,000.

Many of the adjustments in the budget from previous years come in response to changes made by the General Assembly to North Carolina’s tax structure last year. House Bill 998 eliminated the software tax and restricted business privilege license taxes to businesses with a physical location. Council member Robert Clark said given the circumstances he thinks changes to this year’s budget are relatively minor.

“We’re pretty much doing the same things we do year to year with a few exceptions,” he said.

The merit pay adjustments come in response to a study conducted by the city of Winston-Salem which compared its pay structure to that of similar-sized cities in the state.

“I don’t believe the city of Winston Salem can take a stand on poverty if our employees aren’t being page minimum wage,” said council member Derwin Montgomery. He said he wants to see more citizen engagement and hopes the city can further its dialogue with state representatives.

Council member Jeff MacIntosh said he thinks the budget is sustainable despite the loss of some revenues.

“If we can avoid some weather shots, I don’t think we’re going to take it on the chin,” he said, while emphasizing that the political climate in Raleigh could create further challenges for the city in 2015 and that economic development will be crucial to the city’s ability to raise revenue going forward.

“If we’re going to have more money to work with, it’s got to come from the business sector. It can’t come from hardworking people.”

 

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Winston-Salem leaders discuss anticipated revenue losses

The Winston-Salem City Council is searching for answers when it comes to meeting the city’s needs for services in the face of changes to the state’s tax structure.

Council members are concerned about a potential loss of $1.8 million in revenue from stormwater fees as a result of legislation from the General Assembly being considered for Fiscal Year ’15-’16. The fees are used to fund Winston-Salem’s seasonal leaf collection progam, which councilwoman Denise Adams says could become jeopardized down the road.

“Somone decided, or felt, or saw that the stormwater funds were being used inappropriately, and what it has done is caused a ripple that money can no longer be used discretionarily by the cities,” she said at Monday’s finance committee meeting.

Adams, along with council members Dan Besse, Jeff MacIntosh, Robert Clark, and Mayor Allen Joines were in Raleigh last Wednesday where they met with the Forsyth County delegation of the legislature. They articulated their concerns about the effect newly adopted state laws may have on the city’s ability to raise funds. Among these consequences is a $400,000 decrease in revenue from taxes on business privilege licenses. Next year, only businesses with a physical location within Winston-Salem will have to pay the tax. The following year the tax will be repealed entirely, which is expected to lead to an additional loss of $2.6 million.

Adams says she does not know if last week’s legislative meeting will produce tangible results, but thinks it was necessary in sending a message.

“We may not get everything we want, and everything we ask for, but this gives you face time where you’re actually communicating with your representatives, the needs of the citizen,” she said. “If you don’t do that then they won’t know what you want.”