MATTHEWS – The Matthews Board of Commissioners asked Town Manager Hazen Blodgett to look for almost $1 million in cuts from his proposed 2019-20 budget at a special board meeting on May 20.
But Blodgett said finding those cuts would be painful and not beneficial for the town. A public hearing on the proposed budget is slated for May 28 at 7 p.m. The board could vote on the budget that night or wait until its June 10 meeting.
Blodgett first presented town leaders with a $25,640,229 fiscal year 2019-20 budget at a workshop on May 13. The budget is up from the current amended budget of $24,883,772, an increase of $756,757, or 2.95%.
The proposed new tax rate is $0.28 per $100 valuation, which is a drop from the current $0.355 tax rate. The revenue-neutral tax rate, which would be the rate for the town to take in the same amount of money next year as did this year while factoring in average growth since the previous revaluation, would be $0.2613.
That means the proposed budget is recommending a 1.87-cent property tax increase to fund increased operational costs. That increase would raise $965,000.
Adding four police department personnel, including a second vice-narcotics detective and a lieutenant, and funding the fire department and EMS switch to a 24-hour staffing model are the biggest drivers of the increase in the proposed budget.
The four new police positions will cost $231,000 while funding the fire department staffing model is $250,000.
No board member spoke against adding the additional police personnel or the fire department’s switch to a 24-hour staffing model but all the commissioners said they don’t want a tax increase unless it is absolutely necessary.
After the board discussed the budget, Mayor Paul Bailey instructed Blodgett to identify cuts “that could squeeze a little bit more,” resulting in the town not having a tax increase for a second consecutive year.
“I don’t want to increase taxes either, but I want to ensure that we are keeping or increasing our services to our citizens,” Bailey said. “If you (Blodgett) come back to us and say this is how we get to revenue-neutral tax rate, and it is coming from these areas, and these are the services that are being impacted, then we can make a decision to deliver or reduce services.’’
Blodgett proposed a 3% merit pool increase for town employees. He said eliminating that and a proposed 1% market adjustment for employees could be one area board members could vote to eliminate from the budget.
“I can tell you guys honestly, in my opinion, we can’t bring $900,000 out of this budget without laying off people,” Blodgett said. “You don’t have to do the raises, you don’t have to do the police department. We will do whatever the will of the board is.’’
The board also discussed the possibility of funding future capital wants and needs, such as road projects, through a bond referendum. There is time to put a bond referendum before voters this November, but Blodgett said waiting until November 2020 would give the town more preparation time.