1-cent tax increase proposed for Winston-Salem

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity has proposed a 1-cent tax increase for the 2014-15 fiscal year, as he presented the members of the city council with a budget proposal totaling $506.9 million, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The current tax rate is 53 cents for every $100 of taxable property. In his message to the members of the city council, Garrity said that a 1-cent increase is needed to offset a tax-law change passed last year that prevents units of local government from taxing custom software used in businesses.

A tax rate of 54 cents would be an increase of about 2 percent in the tax rate. The owner of a $150,000 house would see a $15 tax bill increase, from $795 to $810.

Property owners in the new business improvement district downtown would see a much larger increase of 10 cents on the tax rate: 1 cent for Garrity’s general increase, and the 9-cent rate that is being recommended to provide extra services such as security and cleanup in the downtown core.

The owner of a $150,000 property would see a tax increase to $945 if the property were in the business improvement district.

City officials said they are trying to maintain services while saving money and providing pay increases to bring city pay levels up to market levels. City salaries are 89 percent of market level pay rates on average. Garrity said. Adjustments being proposed would bring that level up to 91 percent, Garrity said.

The proposed budget would bring up the minimum starting wage for the city from $9 to $10.10 per hour. It would give a 1.5 percent pay hike to employees who are making below market salaries in their positions.

Meanwhile, employees will be eligible for merit pay increases: Garrity, in his budget message, said that on average employees would get 2 percent merit pay increases, varying from 3 percent for the top performers to 1.5 percent for solid performers. Garrity said that in combination the merit and market pay increases could provide some employees with as much as a 4.5 percent pay increase.

The entire city budget would be almost 34 percent larger than the current spending level of $378.9 million, but much of that increase consists of increased water and sewer system investments that are reflected in water and sewer rate increases approved recently by the City-County Utility Commission.

Garrity’s proposed budget includes $305.1 million for operations, $35.5 million for debt service and $166.4 million for capital expenses.

The city’s work force would decline by five positions during the coming year, although no layoffs would be required because of vacancies, said Ben Rowe, an assistant city manager.

Rowe said that nine positions will disappear, including eight in sanitation and one parking attendant slot. Four additional positions would be created, including two latent fingerprint examiners in the police department and an information systems analyst in fire. The other job is a crew coordinator at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.

The city plans to change the operating hours of the City Link telephone service in order to provide better coverage during the busier times. Currently the service is manned 24 hours a day for every day of the year. Under the city’s budget proposal, the hours would be changed to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends and on some holidays. The city would use an answering service to route calls after hours. Rowe said that would free up workers to give prompter service during regular hours.

With one exception, none of the money that the city hopes to raise with a fall bond referendum is in the budget proposed by Garrity for 2014-15.

The exception is $18 million earmarked for the renovation of Union Station. Rowe explained that because the building has some urgent needs such as roof repairs, the city wants to be in position to tackle the problems right away rather than wait for the bond vote.

It’s not a second exception, but the budget also includes $17.5 million for renovations at Benton Convention Center. Although the city has been promoting the renovations as part of the overall bond package, the renovations have never been an item that city officials expected to bring before the voters.

City officials said the 9-cent tax downtown should raise $468,770, with most of that money – about $306,000 – being spent for cleaning and safety.

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