Property taxes hold steady in new budget

Fred McCormick

Black Mountain taxpayers will continue to get the "best bang for (their) buck in Buncombe County," town manager Matt Settlemyer told the board of aldermen as  it voted unanimously June 6 to pass the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

The nearly $10.5 million budget continues the town's trend of increasing the fund balance - its savings - and lowering debt while using funds set aside in advance to pay for capital projects.

"Since 2012, the last five years, your fund balance has increased by over $1 million dollars, which is 27 percent," Settlemyer told the board when presenting his recommended budget. "Your debt service has decreased by over $2 million dollars, a decrease of 41 percent. At the same time, we've been able to carry out a lot of capital projects."

The town is also doing "more with less," according to Settlemyer.

"In 2010 the town had 84 full-time employees," he said. "And this year we have 75 full-time positions. We've made an effort to streamline operations when there has been an opportunity to do that, and we've put people in the position to succeed."

Settlemyer said  Black Mountain has the "lowest effective tax rate" in Buncombe County, at 37.5 cents per $100 of valuation, pointing out that Woodfin's lower tax rate is supplemented by a fire tax.

The town manager credited the practice of saving money for costly items through capital reserve funds as the key to not acquiring new debt. He pointed to the cash purchase of a $425,000 fire truck that will be made in the 2017-18 fiscal year as a prime example of practice.

Firefighters wash the Black Mountain Fire Department's 23-year-old pump truck, to be replaced during the 2017-18 fiscal year with a $425,000 truck the town will buy with cash.

"We will be able to purchase a fire truck without any new debt," he said. "I'm not sure if we've ever been able to buy a fire truck without taking out debt. And that's something we should be proud of."

The custom truck is designed to last 20 years and will replace a vehicle that is 23 years old, according to Black Mountain fire chief Steve Jones.

"That particular truck is a first-out pumper truck," he said. "So if we have a fire in the city, it's the first truck to respond."

The department will seek bids for the truck in the coming weeks and award the contract in July or August, according to Jones. Building the truck will take up to a year.

The town used a capital reserve fund to pay for the dredging of Lake Tomahawk this winter.

Sales tax allocations for the town are expected to increase by $85,000 in the upcoming year. Construction activity in town indicates building permits will generate a $50,000 increase as well.

"The trend is positive for growth in Black Mountain," Settlemyer said. "We're a desirable place to be and to live and work, so people are going to move here and start businesses here."

Eighty percent of the budget - $8.5 million - supports services such as police and fire protection, as well as town recreation and planning.


The town's water fund accounts for $1.5 million in the budget.  A 2 percent rate increase will increase water sales by $25,000 over projections from 2015-16. The adjustment means customers will pay 67 cents more each month.

The remaining $650,000 of the budget is the golf fund, which pays for the golf course's employees, operations and capital projects. Oversight of the course was transferred to assistant town manager and finance director Dean Luebbe in April 2014 after the board of aldermen voted unanimously to cut ties with Billy Casper Golf, then contracted to manage it. Since then the town has worked to create a system in which the course is able to pay for itself.

"The trend of the golf course is in the right direction," Settlemyer said. "The goal is to not have it be subsidized by taxpayers, and we're going to be as close to that as we've been in years. Of things that I'm proud of, the golf course ranks way up there."

For more information on the 2016-17 town budget, go to the town's website