Fayetteville leaders eye tax hike [The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. :: ]
(Fayetteville Observer (NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 30--Fayetteville's city manager says he'll propose a property tax increase to help hire 72 more employees that officials say the Police Department needs.
"If we are going to make significant hiring changes to the Police Department, I don't see how I'll be able to present a balanced budget without proposing a property tax increase of some kind," City Manager Ted Voorhees told The Fayetteville Observer after the City Council wrapped up a daylong budget meeting Saturday.
Voorhees was hesitant to speculate on the size of the tax increase he would be recommending to the council in May.
Would the rate increase be at least a penny? "It's certainly going to be meaningful," Voorhees said of the intended increase.
"A fraction of the penny is not going to get us where we need to be," Voorhees said.
The city currently levies 45.6 cents per $100 in valuation -- a rate that costs a $150,000 homeowner $684, plus county taxes and other fees on annual tax bills.
In February, Police Chief Harold Medlock presented a plan to hire 68 more police personnel. On Saturday, Deputy City Manager Kristoff Bauer added to the request for more proposed city employees: a second police attorney and three more information technology specialists who would help with the police force's use of in-car cameras; laptops inside cars; surveillance cameras around the city; and an increasing need for data analysis.
"We have really crippled IT with the things we are doing," Medlock said.
City Attorney Karen McDonald added: "The police attorney is almost overwhelmed."
With those four additional requests, the police hiring plan now totals 72, Bauer said. He said the council would have to raise revenues by the equivalent of a 3.7-cent tax hike to fund such a plan.
Voorhees said the figure of 3.7 cents was to illustrate the impact of having to add about $5 million to the annual budget. He said it would be "very difficult" and a "serious decision" to slash programs and other city budgets to make up such an increase in new spending.
"Today is a learning opportunity," Voorhees told the council. "We are not asking you to make any decisions today."
A staff member did propose one fee increase Saturday: Charging homeowners $6 more annually for stormwater projects. The fee is now $36 annually on tax bills.
A year ago, Voorhees recommended a $12 annual increase for stormwater projects, but the previous council nixed that idea.
Any decision to raise tax bills will rest with the City Council, which broke up Saturday without much discussion on the matter.
"Until it comes to us, I have nothing else to add," Mayor Nat Robertson said.
Councilman Bill Crisp, who lives in an annexed neighborhood in western Cumberland County, has said his constituents could stomach a tax increase to beef up police and reduce crime.
"We are going to have to give some consideration to it," Crisp said of a possible tax hike. "People are unsafe. People are afraid."
The council will hold more budget meetings this spring and is expected to adopt a new budget and set a tax rate before fiscal 2015 begins July 1.
Requests top $10 million
On Saturday, department heads proposed new initiatives totaling $10.76million and 111 additional employees, including the 72 personnel for police. The requests included hiring 10 more city planners and inspectors, creating the Department of Economic and Business Development, and restoring Enterprise Avenue bus stops off Owen Drive.
Voorhees is expected to pare down some of those requests when he recommends a new city budget in May.
After the meeting, Councilman Jim Arp said city staff might not have their budgeting priorities straight.
"You should fund the most critical things first," Arp said.
"We didn't talk about the fire and police -- two critical components of the city budget -- until at the end of the day," Arp said. "And there is a reason. In my opinion, this is gamesmanship. You are gaming the budget process."
Councilman Mitch Colvin said any talk of a tax increase was speculative. He hopes the city is being run as efficiently as possible.
"However, we have to leave all options on the table, including revenue," Colvin said.
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3565.
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