Town considers FY 2019-’20 budget requests across departments

At the first FY 2019-’20 budget meeting last week, commissioner and staff considered what capital outlay items could be financed this year based on projected revenues across enterprise funds and from property and sales taxes. Thanks to the property valuation and subsequent collection rates, sales tax and healthy enterprise funds, the revenue side of Highlands’ business continues to be rosy.

Town Manager Josh Ward said he didn’t see a need to raise the town’s tax rate. It’s .164 cents per each $100 of assessed value with .015 cents of that earmarked for recreation capital improvements. After the recent property revaluation, Macon County’s real property assessment is $1,737,843,910. That represents a 4.3% increase in value from the last reval but this is prior to possible appeals.

Highlands expects to get $2,793,062 of that. In addition, based on Jackson County taxable real property, Macon/Jackson taxable personal property and Macon/Jackson taxable utility property, in total Highlands expects to get $2,950,801. That in addition to proceeds from its enterprise funds will fund the capital and operational needs in the 2019-’20 budget year. Highlands fire tax is currently .01 per $100 assessed value and is collected in town and in the township, which is in the county. It can only be used for fire department matters. Since Highlands property values are so high, the fire tax is the lowest in the county.

However, the fire tax will likely increase so the town can pay for the Fire Department’s new building. The town will take out a loan – now estimated to be $3 million though that is not a firm number – and the town will pay itself back over the years from fire tax proceeds.

The Water & Sewer and Electric enterprise funds are healthy so no increase in rates is expected, but there will likely be an increase in sanitation fees because that fund is just breaking even. Money is needed to purchase the proposed bear-resistant toters in the commercial district. Based on these financials, the administration is considering items on the capital outlay list.

Last Thursday several proposed projects were considered with paving a big issue. Commissioners say paving is a topic they are constantly asked about and with the rains this past year there are two roads that just can’t wait – Satulah and Cullasaja Drive. Satulah would cost $102,000 and Cullasaja – 1.1 miles long from US 64 east – would cost $215,000. Road and sidewalk repairs and maintenance is another hot issue. So, $30,000 will likely be allocated for sidewalk repairs, $30,000 for salt and $20,000 for paint striping. Of course, the water/sewer department has a lot of issues.

The Buckhorn Water tank and pump station that was a surprise “need” last year is expected to come in at the vicinity of $600,000 when all is said and done. The Split Rail waterline improvements – on the back burner for a few years – is now front and center. Public Works Director Lamar Nix said he would really like to get that done as water delivery to that area is crucial. That will cost $876,000.

In the news lately are the water plant filters. The #1 filter is being repaired with money available in the 2018-’19 budget. Upgrades to the #2 filter need to be done as it’s carrying the load. Being proactive by spending the necessary $200,000 in FY 2019-’20 for an upgrade will likely keep it from failing. Sewer pump SCADA and hardware replacements are needed for Shelby Place and the old sewer plant and the Buckhorn/country club plant for a total of $86,000.

Then there’s Wastewater Treatment Plant hardware and equipment needs totaling $176,500. A reconductor portion on US 64 east within the town limits needs to be replaced for $147,000 and a chipper truck needs to be replaced for $890,000. The reconductor portion of Horsecove Road won’t be financed in the 2019-’20 budget. In the sanitation department the “need” is the commercial bear-resistant toters for $123,000 and $30,000 to change out dumpsters which is done on a rotating basis. In the MIS/GIS department a replacement Jeep has been requested for $33,000 as well a GPS replacement for $5,000. Ground penetrating radar which was requested for $30,000 probably won’t make it in the budget this year.

In the Parks & Recreation Dept. a tennis court replacement for $105,000 is on the list as is $54,000 for exercise equipment and a new pool slide. Landscaping of the Town Hall complex – particularly around the veterans’ memorial – will likely make it this year for $159,000. The total considered across all departments: General Fund, Water/Sewer Fund, Electric Fund and Sanitation Fund minus the items that were cut this first go-around is $3,004,000.

The idea is that projects in particular departments will be funded with money from those funds. Tax revenue will be used to fund everything else. The town’s current General Fund balance is $4 million. The General Fund Reserve is $3.8 million and the Electric Fund Reserve is $4 million. Last year, the town didn’t need to use any of that money.

By Kim Lewicki

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