On May 6, the Town of Highlands finalized its FY 2021-2022 budget – coming in at $28.4 million – up from FY ’20-’21’s $20.1 million.
An unexpectedly good fiscal year means no tax hikes or fee increases for FY 2021-‘22.
The ad valorem property tax stays at 15.65 cents per $100 valuation with 1 ½ cent of that earmarked for paving projects.
Instead of sun setting the 1 ½ cent that was earmarked for recreation for five years, commissioners agreed to keep it but to earmark it for paving instead.
The anticipated revenue from property taxes which includes $119,736 from Jackson County residents within the Town of Highlands is $2,829,867.
The fire tax for the coming year is also unchanged – 3 cents per $100 valuation.
Fire tax collection, including $84,000 from Jackson County, which they have agreed to pay annually from now on, is expected to be $1,147,353. These funds are being used to finance the Fire Dept. project.
The local option tax (sales tax) proceeds are expected to be $1,200,000.
Utility rates – water, sewer, electric and sanitation – are all the same as last year.
At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners agreed to continue the 3% COLA (cost of living adjustment) allocation for employees. Since the fiscal state of the town was unsure this time last year, COLA wasn’t in the FY ’20-’21 budget.
However, in January 2021, when it was evident that money matters were great, commissioners agreed to give employee a 3% COLA raise through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. COLA will now be included in the FY ’21-’22 budget as well.
The health insurance provider for town employees will change.
Instead of signing on with MedCost whose cost to the town was set to increase, commissioners agreed to switch to Blue Cross Blue Shield NC this year for a $37,982 savings compared to what MedCost was going to charge. Benefits, deductibles, etc., are expected to be about the same for employees.
The state mandated employee retirement contribution will cost the town $12,176.86 this year which is an 11.35% increase over last year. The LEO separation allowance is up 12.04% so will cost $5,428.13.
The only item added to the Capital Project list from the last budget meeting is Ballfield Light Replacement at $137,500.
Total expenditures for capital projects stands at $3.5 million, which is closer to what was proposed for FY ’20-’21 prior to COVID. But due to COVID uncertainties only $1.6 million of last year’s proposed capital projects list of $3.2 million was budgeted.
The current General Fund Balance is $3.8 million. The current General Fund Reserve – is $4.9 million and the current Electric Fund Reserve is $5.3 million.
The $1.5 million borrowed from the General Fund Reserve for the Fire Dept. will now be put back in to the fund from fire tax collections.
Town Manager Josh Ward said the town is in good shape.
“Expenditures vs. revenues are very solid,” he said. “Sales tax revenues are good, property tax collections are good as is the utility collection rate.”
Meanwhile, Town Engineer Lamar Nix said should infrastructure stimulus money come Highlands’ way, the town is ready with the required plans and paperwork.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper