Last updated: May 16. 2014 3:18PM - 1528 Views
By - swillets@civitasmedia.com

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LUMBERTON — The Lumberton City Council is considering a 2-cent property tax increase, new inspection fees and a trial run of a more efficient meter system in a proposed $83.6 million budget for the next fiscal year.

The council looked over the proposed 2014-2015 budget at a workshop on Monday and is expected to finalize the financial plan at its next regular meeting on June 9 in time for it to take effect on July 1. During the workshop, a proposed 2 percent cost-of-living increase for city employees was removed by the council.

There are no adjustments proposed for water or sewer rates or electrical rates, which were upped by 3 percent in March.

The council has proposed a 2-cent increase for property taxes, which would generate about $270,000 in additional revenue at a 90 percent collection rate.

According to Wayne Horne, the city manager, the last tax adjustment was a reduction from 65 cents for every $100 of property to the current rate of 63 in 2007. That would mean the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $20 more in property taxes.

Horne had proposed a 4-cent hike, but council sliced it in half. The county’s property tax rate is 77 cents.

Councilman Don Metzger said an increase is the “responsible” move.

“You can’t spend more than you’re taking in and we’ve stretched as far as we could stretch, so I’m pleased that we faced up to that,” he said.

The budget proposes new inspection and permit fees that Horne said could generate an additional $9,220 per year.

If approved, the city would charge $50 for a fire plan review for buildings 50,000 square feet and smaller; $100 for buildings 50,001 square feet and larger; $35 for inspection of a foster or group home; $35 for a fire inspection for newly constructed buildings; $100 for repeat fire inspections for buildings not in compliance; and $25 for a flood plain development permit.

The budget includes $90,000 to kick off a pilot program for a new meter system that could give residents more control over their utility bills. The “smart-grid” system allows residents to monitor their usage in real time in an effort to cut their bill and utility employees to read meters without driving to each one.

In an effort to save money, the city is considering transitioning what is now Fire Station 2 to a public safety facility used for 24-hour ambulatory services. Currently, the station is closed an average of 25 days each month.

Fire Station 2 is off of N.C. 72, near the former site of the Weatherspoon Plant, and was constructed to respond to areas that would be cut off if there were a train on nearby tracks. The plant closed in 2011 and demolished two years later, reducing the rail traffic. Out of 66 fire calls to the station over a 12-month period, 18 were on the south side of the tracks, where the station is.

Proponents say the station would better serve the community as a hub for ambulances. During the same 12-month period, the station received 590 ambulance calls.

Firefighters would be transferred to other stations, allowing the city to meet the National Fire Training Association’s staffing recommendations. A firetruck at the station would not have to be replaced at a cost of $400,000.

Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services has expressed an interest in using the building and is negotiating with city staff to do so.

Metzger said the proposal is a win-win.

“It’s a minimal investment that maintains the appropriate services for the city and recognizes that all of these people who work for the rescue squad provide a significant service to the community,” he said.

The fire department’s request for $254,204 to hire six new firefighters was not included in the proposed budget, but the council will consider hiring another police detective at a salary of $50,000.

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