Black Mountain budget talks continue, Town Council looks for ways to increase revenue

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Mayor Larry Harris led the budget discussion June 2, putting the question of raising taxes up to the town council.

Budget discussions continued June 2 as the town of Black Mountain works to finalize a plan for the upcoming fiscal year and prioritize necessities.

"These are difficult conversations, I totally understand that," said council member Pam King. "But I'm not afraid to have them."

This second discussion in a series of budget talks led by Town Council covered capital projects, specific funds for certain departments such as budgeting for six new positions with the town staff and the possibility of raising taxes. 

More:Black Mountain discusses town budget for police, fire, streets, sanitation and recreation

"In the recommended budget I've got about $400,000 for appropriation to balance the budget," said Josh Harrold, town manager, addressing Town Council. 

Mayor Larry Harris facilitated the discussion, saying if the council chose to raise taxes to increase revenue, that would be its prerogative. King said such action would require serious discussion.

"If it gets to the point where the community and the citizens want a certain level of service, they expect this, that and the other thing from our staff, we have to figure out how to pay for it," King said. "If we don't have staff, we're not going to provide any level of service."

Tammy Holland, the finance director, discussed vehicle fees, saying municipalities can charge up to $30 from residents if a town has public transportation. Holland said she wasn't sure how many municipalities charge the full $30, though most charge more than Black Mountain's current fee of $5.

With limited town staff, the new budgeted positions remain a necessity. Funding for these positions constitutes salaries and day to day operations.

Three of the new positions with the town will be for the police department, one will be with administration, one will be with human resources and one will be with the water department, according to Harrold. He said $300,000 will be contributed from the American Rescue Plan Act to go toward salaries.

In addition to the three new positions, the proposed police department budget includes $580,000 for five new vehicles and body cameras. 

The requested budget for the police department amounts to $3.18 million.

In the first budget discussion on May 26, council voiced support for renovating the Gray Eagle Arena, a project widely sought after by locals. The budget includes a proposed amount of $95,800 to go toward repairs of the arena, $55,000 for ceiling repair and $45,000 for lighting. 

Harrold outlined the allocation of specific salaries between departments and funds. The general fund contains 40%, the water fund 30%, development and fire each at 10% and the golf fund and stormwater each at 5%.

An additional $10,000 was added to the administration budget to account for a pay study for town employees set to begin in August. 

Budget discussions will continue in the coming weeks.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.