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With questions still lingering over revenue streams in the city’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Roanoke Rapids City Council will meet again Monday to discuss the financial plan.

That meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in the first floor conference room at city hall on Roanoke Avenue.

One of the proposals which came out of an hour-and-a-half work session Tuesday on the budget was one by Councilman Wayne Smith for the panel to consider a 3-cent tax increase.

While there was never a consensus reached on Smith’s proposal, he said this morning he will bring it up again as the panel continues to discuss the budget and American Rescue Plan funding Monday.

He also believes the council needs to have a public forum so residents can ask questions of the panel whether it is about taxes or anything else they want to discuss.

Drawing from fund balance

Smith’s proposal came after City Manager Kelly Traynham said for the past five years the city has used fund balance to balance the budget.

“There’s not much more I can cut from the operating budget so if council wants to increase fund balance in order to increase salaries that’s one option,” the city manager said. “Another option we have discussed outside of the general fund budget is looking at the capital budget and offsets from the American Rescue Plan money.”

She also said the council could look at the city’s bonus structure and bonuses for employees in the upcoming fiscal year which would be a one or two-time payment. Traynham said, however, “When you increase the salary you also have to increase your contribution to retirement, 401(k), and so forth.”

As he went through the budget, Smith said, “Of course I know you’ve got to pay salaries and I know we have to pay benefits but we still need money to work with after the people get on the job.”

One of the solutions, Smith said, acknowledging he hated to bring it up, is that the city might have to look at a tax increase. “We probably need to look at a 3-cent tax increase this year according to what the council wants to do. We’ve got to get some money in the budget for our workers to have funds to do the job that we expect them to do.”

Smith and Traynham both confirmed that a $400,000 bill for the city’s share of the 911 center operating costs has not been budgeted. That matter is the subject of a motion and complaint filed by the city which seeks an order the county provide 911 dispatching services for municipal emergency responders at no charge to the city.

On the matter of bringing the tax increase up, Smith said, “A lot of people say I can sit up here and say that but I pay taxes like everybody else does. My taxes are going to go up like everybody else's.”

A 3-cent tax increase would raise around $327,553.

No clear consensus

During the work session, no clear consensus from the council was given on Smith’s proposal.

“I think we need to look at where we are with the expenses that our taxpayers actually pay right now,” Councilman Carl Ferebee said. “I know we giveth and I know we taketh away so we’ve got to figure out how to balance that without imposing a tax increase on our residents at this point and time.”

Smith said he didn’t disagree. “But the thing we have to look at is these people are elected to make sure the city functions like it should function and we’re talking about it’s going to cost $56 a year difference in what they’re paying now and what the average person in the city of Roanoke Rapids pays now. I hate taxes as bad as anybody else because I live on a fixed income … We haven’t done anything at all since I’ve been on council, since the mayor’s been (here) about an increase.”

Councilman Rex Stainback said inflation this year is going to be close to 10 percent. Stainback only indicated that he’s “all about looking at other sources of revenue.”

Smith indicated it is something the council needs to think about. “We’re going to stay in this situation until the year 2032 when that theater is paid off. We’ve got 10 more years of the same situation that we’re in right now because we’re paying a million dollars a year for the theater debt and a million dollars a year would do a whole lot for this community.”

Mayor Emery Doughtie said discussion of the 3-cent tax increase “is something that took everybody by surprise. It’s a big undertaking.”

Doughtie said over the past few decades the city has lost 3,000 people. “We tried for several years to get what I thought, and this council thought, was a very appropriate tax in the sales tax so that everybody who came and spent money paid the tax. You’re putting a tax on people that they don’t have the opportunity to vote on. You’re putting it on a relatively small percentage of the people.”

Never popular/Other options

Traynham said the topic of raising taxes is never popular. “But when people say why do we have old playground equipment, why aren’t the streets repaved, why can’t we do this, why can’t we do that? Quite frankly our operating budget is cut in order to maintain a balanced budget so when things start falling apart like buildings and we run out of maintenance money they (department heads) come back and say we need more money. In the instances of businesses, when the cost of things go up, they raise the prices on their inventory.”

But Traynham said while a tax increase is one way to break even based on the city’s current expenses there are other sources — increases in fees.

For instance, the city is proposing to raise the solid waste fee currently at $240 a year to $265. That increase would raise more than $100,000.

Smith said if the city increased fees he would drop the talk of a tax increase.

Ferebee said, “When we increase those items, that’s a tax so we just taxed them now we’re doing an additional. All I’m saying is with everything the way it is now in my opinion we need to look at all the other avenues.”

Councilwoman Sandra Braynt said, “We can’t just continue to do the same things that we’ve always done and expect to get different results.”

Bryant said looking at economic development and other ways to increase revenues is another option. “I think we’ve got some things that we don’t even look at. I think we lose a lot of interest in not promoting things.”

The Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail is one of those things, Bryant said. “I think we don’t look at that as a money maker or if it's worth doing anything else to bring revenue to the city.” 

Developing the city’s historic district is another factor, she said. “I look at other cities and I see what people have done to those older areas and they are amazing. I don’t know how to come up with those funds but I do know we need to be thinking about that.”

As discussed throughout the meeting, 65 percent of the budget is tied to salaries. “I understand our employees are our biggest asset,” Bryant said. “You’re never going to have an employee that says I’m overpaid but we want to make sure they have a living wage.”

At the same time, Bryant said, employees “also have to realize it is costing the city to pay for their medical, their dental, their retirement. If we can make the jobs more efficient so that people can actually do some other things to help generate more monies for the city — you’ve got my vote.”