MATTHEWS – After a couple of final tweaks, the Matthews Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a $25.6 million fiscal year 2019-20 budget June 10. The budget is a 2.95% increase from the current fiscal budget.
The proposed new tax rate is $0.28 per $100 of assessed value, 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 it did this year while factoring in average natural growth, is $0.2613.
That means the proposed budget is recommending a tax rate of 1.87 cents above revenue neutral, or a 4.25% increase. The increase will raise $965,000 in additional property tax.
The town’s police department will get an additional six personnel, including two new patrol officer positions that were added after a budget workshop meeting on June 3.
At the first of three budget meetings, commissioners asked Town Manager Hazen Blodgett to come up with additional cuts in the budget. Blodgett found an additional $125,000 in savings but recommended the board put that money toward street paving instead of cutting the tax rate by a quarter of a penny.
On June 10, Blodgett recommended to the board use the $125,000 to hire two new patrol officers. The budget also fully funds the fire department and EMS switch to a 24-hour staffing model. In all, there is an increase of $605,000 for public safety personnel.
“We talked about adding that to the paving fund, but after further discussion, staff is recommending two patrol officers,” Blodgett said.
Commissioners John Urban and Kress Query were the only commissioners during a June 3 straw vote to oppose the budget as it stood. Both commissioners, at the time, wanted the $125,000 in cuts be used to reduce the tax rate instead of going toward road paving.
“Commissioner Query and I had some roundtable discussions late in the game late last week with the (police) chief (Clark Pennington),’’ Urban said. “I contacted Hazen and the mayor (Paul Bailey) and called an audible. Our position was to put that $125,000 into the police side.’’
Commissioner Chris Melton, who will not be running for reelection this November, said funding for public safety must be a top priority in the years to come. As Melton spoke, several police officers were standing in the back of the room watching the proceedings.
“It’s no secret that I will not be sitting up here at this dais next year,” Melton said. “I want everybody to look in the back of the room and see those gentlemen standing there and realize that this is step one. This isn’t the fix. We are not going to be living in a utopia when we have six new positions. This is the initial investment on where our police department needs to be. We need to get them where they need to be.”
The budget also includes a 3% salary increase pool for full-time employees and there is a possibility that employees would get a 1% market adjustment on Jan. 1, 2020. Blodgett said staff will report back to the board on Nov. 25 with an update on the financial condition of the town and possibly add the market adjustment to the budget, which would cost $60,000.
Commissioner John Higdon asked the board to restore funding for the Military and Veterans Advisory Committee ($2,500) and Appearance and Tree Board ($1,000) after those monies were cut.
“I would like to see those two line items restored,” Higdon said. “Both of them are reasonable. If there is no room for them then I suggest we fund them at 85 percent and that we also cut the Red Brick Partnership from $20,000 to $17,000 to make up the difference.”
Commissioner John Urban said he felt the advisory boards should come to the board with requests for funding so the board can look at it. Urban then offered to forgo his technology allowance and give that money to the two advisory committees. Several other commissioners also agreed to give up their technology allowances and the money for both advisory committees were restored to the budget.