Budget proposal: Marion's tax rate holds steady but fees will go up

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Marion City Council was given a recommended $11.3 million budget for fiscal year 2019-2020, which doesn’t call for an increase in the city’s property tax rate.

In his presentation, City Manager Bob Boyette said Tuesday the proposed 2019-2020 budget of $11,378,165 is an increase of $683,795, or 6.4%, over the original 2018-2019 budget. The proposed budget is a decrease of $52,176, or a half of a percent, from the amended 2018-2019 fiscal year plan, which is a more accurate way to show how the budget has changed from year to year.

Marion’s property tax rate will stay at 51 cents per $100 valuation. This will be the 52nd straight year that the city of Marion has not raised the property tax rate. The $.51 tax rate is projected to generate approximately $2,490,912 in revenues for real, personal and utility property, and $190,000 for motor vehicles, based on a tax collection rate of 97%, which is one percent less than the projected city tax collection percentage for 2018-20189, according to Boyette’s message to council.

For 2019-2020, the city’s property tax base is projected to increase modestly due to natural growth and because of two special factors: the new ability to collect property taxes on the former Mission Health property (which is now HCA Healthcare) and the county’s revaluation.

“At the time this budget message was written, city staff were continuing to work with the county to obtain complete information on property values,” read’s Boyette budget message to council.

Sales tax revenue to the city of Marion is expected to decrease by $15,000 in 2019-2020, due to a change in the interlocal agreement between the city and McDowell County regarding sales tax distribution.

“Retail sales in the city and county have been good in recent years, exceeding the growth in statewide retail sales for eight of the past 11 years, and continued growth in local retail sales is expected to continue in 2019-20,” reads Boyette’s budget message to council. “Forecasts call for sales tax revenues across North Carolina to be 4.5% higher in 2019-20 than in 2018-19, so there is hope that the sales tax revenue estimates projected for 2018-19 are conservative and that actual sales tax collections may exceed the estimate.”

Even though the property tax rate still remains the same, city customers will pay more for their water and sewer service.

The proposed budget calls for an increase of just over 3% in water and sewer rates, service charges and minimum charges. “The rate increase will produce an estimated $83,410 in revenue in 2018-19,” reads Boyette’s budget message. “In the proposed budget, there is no budgeted transfer from the General Fund to the Water and Sewer Fund for the 11th year in a row, meaning that the Water and Sewer Fund will continue to be self-sustaining, continuing a goal the City Council has had for many years.”

ABC revenues are expected to be $150,000, which represents a $25,000 increase from the 2018-2019 budgeted amount. This additional money is due to increased sales and improvements made to the two ABC stores in Marion. This money is designated for beautification, parks and recreation, downtown/economic development and donations to outside agencies.

The proposed budget does call for a $1 per month increase in the monthly residential garbage fee from $3 per month to $4 per month. Boyette said this increase is being recommended to offset the cost of backyard residential garbage collection and other solid waste services. The budget also calls for a 20% increase in commercial garbage rates to offset costs from prior and current year increases in McDowell County’s solid waste tipping fees that are greater than 20 percent.

The proposed budget for Marion includes a 2% cost-of-living pay increase for city employees. It has a 4% increase in health insurance due and increases in employer contributions to the Local Government Employees Retirement System.

The 2019-2020 budget calls for some new positions to be created. These include an additional narcotics position for the Police Department, effective Oct. 1, two new firefighter positions effective July 1 and a part-time administrative assistant for the Fire Department. The city has requested a 2-cent increase in the Marion Area Fire District’s tax rate to help pay for this.

The proposed plan contains $195,250 for street and sidewalk projects, $87,000 for downtown events and economic development, $51,089 for Blue Ridge and Carson street repairs, $35,000 for a new roof at City Hall, $9,000 for painting the City Hall’s atrium, $86,677 for two new police cars, $15,000 for a new HVAC at the Police Department, $30,000 for code enforcement expenses, $20,000 for replacing the shed roof on the Community Building, $79,000 for two new trucks for the Streets Division, $10,000 for 10 new Dumpsters, among other expenses.

Boyette said the city’s Public Works plans to implement a faster and more efficient method of brush collection.

The plan has money for the Mountain Glory festival, the Fourth of July fireworks, downtown events and promotions, the Tailgate Market, the façade grant program and the third phase of the Catawba River greenway.

As with last year, the proposed budget contains a $25,000 contribution from the city for the Municipal Events Center lease (with $10,000 offset by the McDowell Tourism Development Authority’s contribution to the Mountain Glory Festival).

The Growing Entrepreneurs Marion (GEM) program will get $7,500 from the budget. There is also $23,000 in funding from the city of Marion to other local agencies.

In his presentation, Boyette said the city of Marion will have 101 full-time employees and one part-time employee in next fiscal year. That is only two and a half more positions than there were in 2007-2008. He said to the mayor and council members that the city will have to look at hiring more people in order to maintain the level of services both they and the residents expect.

“There’s no fluff in this budget,” said the city manager. “I think we are doing as much as we can in this budget.”

Like other local governments, the city of Marion has to adopt a budget by June 30. The City Council decided Tuesday not to hold the usual budget workshop before adoption. The council will hold a public hearing about the 2019-2020 plan on Tuesday, June 18 and likely adopt it at that time. It is available for public inspection at the City Hall.

In addition, the City Council adopted a series of traffic rule changes for West Court Street, based on recommendations from the Street Committee.

These changes are as follows:

• Clearly state that parking is not allowed on West Court Street directly in front of the West Court Baptist Church property. The previous signs and rules had contradictory language that did not make the parking prohibition clear.

• Install signs for a two-hour parking zone on the south side of West Court Street between Snipes and Pulliam streets and between Pulliam Street and a point about two-thirds of the way to Burgin Street.

• To enforce a no-parking area at the intersection of West Court and Burgin streets.

• To change a section of the south side of West Court between a point near Burgin Street and a point just west of the Los Tres Hombes store, from a two-hour parking zone to an unlimited parking area.

In other business, the Marion City Council:

• Approved an easement for Dominion Energy (formerly PSNC) to allow the natural gas company to cross city-owned property on Old U.S. 221 South as part of a natural gas extension.

• Heard a presentation from Susan Pyatt-Baker, executive director of MACA, about the art council’s activities, new additions and programs.

• Approved a request from Historic Carson House for use of the Marion Community Building. Martha Jordan, executive director of the historic site, said a series of programs will be held at the Community Building especially during the winter months when the house is closed for the season.

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