Town of Black Mountain puts finishing touches on 2019-20 budget

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain elected officials meet for a workshop to discuss the 2019-20 budget on May 20. The board is set to be presented with the final draft of the budget on Monday, June 10. If approved, the budget will go into effect when the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

With a new fiscal year beginning on July 1, the town of Black Mountain is expected to adopt its 2019-20 budget June 10 when the board of aldermen assembles for its regular monthly meeting.

The recommended $11.5 million budget from town manager Josh Harrold is up 3.25% from the current budget, and continues the trend of addressing debt and adding to the fund balance while maintaining current property tax rates. 

"The board made the decision a number of years ago to focus on paying down debt and putting money in reserve to allow the town to pay for things without having to finance them," said Harrold, who served as the town's director of planning and development for three years before accepting a similar position in Lewisville in 2017. He returned to Black Mountain as the town manager last October. "We're continuing that with this budget."

The town has maintained a revenue neutral tax rate since 2011, according to assistant town manager and finance director Dean Luebbe. The current effective tax rate for Black Mountain residence is 33.25 cents per $100 of valuation. The rate was lowered from 37.5 cents per $100 of valuation following Buncombe County's reappraisal in 2017. 

"The town's effective property tax rate has been the same for a number of years," Harrold said. "The board has also been committed to maintaining it, and raising it is something that's never discussed."

Harrold began preparing for the budget in February by seeking input from aldermen. 

"I met with each of them to try to get an idea of what their interests were," he said. "That helped me develop an understanding of what to focus on going into the process."

The town manager then fielded requests from department heads for the upcoming budget.

"Dean and I meet with those department heads and based on the information we've received from the board, that's how we are able to determine what is recommended by the manager," Harrold said. 

This year's general fund budget, which supports the town's seven department's and governing board, is up 4.24 percent over 2018-19. The $9.24 million budget includes a 9 percent increase for the police department and a 7.46 percent increase for the public services department. 

The combined budgets of the police and fire department make up 44 percent of the general fund budget. An additional officer, at an annual cost to the town of $61,000, will be added to the police department in the coming fiscal year.

The budget also allows $23,000 to replace nine tasers and almost $10,000 to maintain and equip the department's special response team. The police department budget will include $4,500 for a cadet corps program intended to introduce youth to a career in law enforcement.

The street division of public services is budgeted to receive $229,500 in the proposed. Those funds represent an increase of $148,500 over the current budget and include $150,000 for street paving. 

Recreation services will receive an additional $60,000 to support renovations to the tennis courts at Lake Tomahawk. 

Revenues impacting the general fund are anticipated to be up 4.24 percent in the coming fiscal year. 

"That always dependent on the market," Harrold said of the projection. "The revenues are up based on the number of houses being built, the price of those houses and sales taxes are up statewide. Those are all trends we're seeing."

The town's water fund budget is down slightly and an additional $11,500 for personnel services at the golf course reflect in a 2.95 percent increase in that fund. 

The proposed budget includes a five-year capital improvement plan, intended to forecast and match projected revenue with town needs in the coming years. 

"It's an important thing to have in place because it allows us to plan accordingly," Harrold said. "It gives an opportunity to prepare for purchases that we know we'll need to make."

The document also allows the town to identify and target potential grants, he said. 

The capital improvement plan demonstrates the town's commitment to Phase II of the Riverwalk Greenway project, which Harrold estimates will cost around $6 million once completed.

"We've received a grant for that project, so federal funding pays for 80 percent of it and the town matches with the additional 20 percent," he said. 

The plan also calls for a $1.6 million commitment to street paving over the next five years, when allocations are proposed to be doubled to $300,000 annually, beginning in the 2020-21 fiscal year. 

"Some of that money comes from our general fund and another source for that money is the Powell Bill fund, which is generated by the state gas tax," Harrold said. "Cities and towns across the state are given a percentage of that money based on size and road mileage in your jurisdiction."

Harrold presented the recommended budget to the board on April 25. The board held a budget workshop on May 20. 

"If nothing changes then this budget will be presented to the board during its June meeting and go into effect on July 1," he said. "This is good year for the budget, especially for it to be my first. It's gone smoothly and I think we did a good job putting things together and trying to get the departments what they needed."