Black Mountain passes budget for 2017-18 fiscal year

Tax rate remains among lowest in Buncombe County

Fred McCormick

While North Carolina leaders crept toward adopting a $23 billion budget and Buncombe County approving its own $433 million budget June 20, Black Mountain on June 19 solidified its 2017-18 budget of just over $11 million.

Rachel Blattner leads an aqua-cise class at Black Mountain Pool in this 2015 photo.

The town budget emphasizes reducing debt, increasing the town's fund balance and investing in capital projects while maintaining the lowest tax rate among Buncombe County's six municipalities.

“This is a (tax) revaluation year, and in these years we’re required to publish a revenue-neutral rate,” town manager Matt Settlemyer said. “That rate for the town of Black Mountain this year 33.29 cents per $100 of valuation. We’ve looked at a rate of 33.25 cents per $100 of valuation for the upcoming year.”

That rate, just below the published revenue-neutral rate, was approved by the board. The budget passed by the county included a property tax rate of 53.9 cents per $100 of valuation - lower than last year, but 2.6 cents above the revenue-neutral rate.

The city of Asheville adopted its $176 million budget June 13. Its budget included a tax rate of 42.89 cents per $100 of valuation, 3.5 cents above the published revenue-neutral rate.

Settlemyer noted that other towns in the county such as Weaverville and Biltmore Forest also set rates above the revenue-neutral mark. Montreat’s 41 cents per $100 of valuation, approved by its governing body June 20, is the same that it was a year ago.

“It is amazing that not only have we been the lowest with tax rates, but we’re going to continue being the lowest,” Black Mountain mayor Michael Sobol said during the town's budget hearing.

The $11,120,919 budget is 6.31 percent higher than last fiscal year's. The majority of the increase can be attributed to debt reduction and an increase in capital expenditures, according to Settlemyer.

The town will spend $591,269 on debt principal and interest in the 2017-18 fiscal year, with $222,000 of that going to paying off the Lakeview Pool in August. Paying the pool off early will save the town $25,000 in interest over the next seven years.

“From 2012 to 2018 our debt has been reduced from a little over $5 million to a little over $2.5 million,” Settlemyer told the board during the hearing. “So there’s been a 51 percent decrease over the last six years.”

A focus on decreasing the debt has allowed the town to increase its fund balance, or savings, to an estimated $4.8 million. The unassigned fund balance - that which can be used for anything - is just over $3 million.

“The trend is the fund balance has gone up and debt service has gone down,” Settlemyer said. “In 2012 we had 14 debt-related projects. With the approval of this budget we'll have four."

Total budget expenditures for the golf course in the coming fiscal year are slightly more than $630,000.

"We've reduced the golf course expenditures by 2.69 percent," Settlemyer said. "We also raised a handful of rates at the golf course in April in an attempt to continue to generate money."

Rainy days in April and May will likely cause the course the fall just short of paying for itself in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The town anticipates spending money on four capital projects in the upcoming year - improvements to Veterans Park, the second phase of the Riverwalk Greenway, the Upper Swannanoa River Watershed Restoration Plan and the already completed Tomahawk Branch bank restoration, A total of $40,000 is set aside for improvements at Lake Tomahawk and the Lakeview Center for Active Aging.

Black Mountain water customers will see a 1 percent rate increase in the coming fiscal year. That would amount to an increase of 38 cents a month for households using 5,000 gallons of water in the monthly billing period.

"This board's done a great job reducing debt," Sobol said before the budget went up for a final vote. "(Alderman) Don (Collins) has done a great job leading the way on that."