Black Mountain approves $17 million budget, retention bonus for town employees

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Vice Mayor Ryan Stone addressed the public prior to voting to approve the budget, stating that the town did its best to ensure all its needs were met.

Black Mountain Town Council approved a $16,910,990 budget and capital improvement plan on June 28 in addition to a retention bonus for town employees.

The property tax rate remains unchanged. 

The budget, for fiscal year 22-23, represents a 15% increase from the previous fiscal year due to personnel, capital, debt and operating costs.

"I would not characterize this document as 'reckless spending' in any way," said Vice Mayor Ryan Stone. "We're all very aware and we all feel the pain that everyone does right now with inflation and everything going on."

More:Black Mountain prepares to finalize upcoming budget, talks fire department staffing issues

Town Manager Josh Harrold said the town remains committed to providing all existing services including recreation and parks, finance, administration, planning and zoning, building inspections, public services, residential garbage and recycling, police, fire and stormwater. 

Harrold said the town has been trying to change its payroll cycle for a while but due to rising costs and inflation, he proposed a retention bonus of $2,500 for all full-time town employees. He said across the board, this will amount to $207,000. 

"As we're finishing up this year's budget, we feel very confident that there is going to be money in there to cover that," Harrold said. "Each and every employee that I've talked to have been very, very appreciative of this." 

Harrold presented the town budget in its entirety prior to its approval. 

The town's general fund was budgeted at $9,583,160, an 11% decrease from the previous fiscal year. Outstanding debt in the general fund amounts to $1,699,108, consisting of land purchased on Black Mountain Avenue, Town Square and loans for the sanitation department.

"Increase in personnel costs is due to a 6% cost of living adjustment for all full-time employees, three new positions in the police department, two new positions in administration, one new water customer service position as well as a part-time waste reduction services position," Harrold said. 

Total salaries for the three police department positions amount to $205,026. The positions include two night shift patrol officers and one evidence technician/accreditation manager.

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

In operating costs, the town budgeted for a 25% increase to fuel costs for every department. Harrold said operating costs increased in nearly every department, including $10,000 in administration for a salary study, $211,500 for the police department for dispatch services, professional development and supplies, and $60,000 for sanitation maintenance and repairs.

"We are budgeting $4,665,700 for ad valorem or property taxes," Harrold said. "We budgeted sales tax considerably higher this upcoming year at $355,590 higher. We continue to see just an amazing growth in sales tax and I hope it continues forever."

The town's policy for unassigned funds requires a 30% balance. Harrold said the town is well within the required margins at 38%. 

Mayor Larry Harris said the town doesn't want to hold onto too much in the unassigned funds but also doesn't want to spend it on a recurring expenditure. He said council and staff spent time appropriating money for larger purchases such as vehicles.

"They're not exactly one-time expenditures because you have those but they're not salaries," Harris said. 

Mayor Larry Harris considers the town budget during its presentation on June 28.

The fire services fund was approved at $2,629,675. This year's budget moves the fire department into a special fund to account for revenue from the East Buncombe Fire District, allowing for better accounting and financial reporting.

The water fund totals $2,248,895, a 10% increase from the current fiscal year. Harrold said this includes a 6% increase in rates, meaning the average town resident using 5,000 gallons of water a month will see an increased payment of about $2.

"Our commitment to excellence makes Black Mountain one of the greatest places to live, work and raise a family," Harrold said. "As always, I appreciate the guidance and support I receive from the mayor and the council I receive in the process."

Harrold also thanked the department heads for their input in creating the approved budget. 

Council members agreed that while with every budget, not everyone will be satisfied, the town has done its best to prioritize town needs. Council member Pam King said while even she didn't get everything she wanted, the town worked hard to not overburden its citizens.

"It's a juggling act," King said. "There are many demands on the town's funds, and I feel really good that we tried to balance it out and make sure that it was used equitably."

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.