Following a series of public hearings and a budget retreat with senior staff, the Southern Pines Town Council voted June 8 to approve the FY 2021-2022 budget.
The general fund budget is balanced at $22,452,802, which represents an increase of approximately $1.75 million from the FY 2020-2021 budget adopted in the midst of significant unknowns regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on potential revenues. Along with the budget, council also voted to hold the property tax rate at $0.40 for the fifth year.
The approved budget allows Southern Pines to continue its long history of providing high-quality services at a relatively low rate. The FY 2022 budget, which begins on July 1, not only maintains current service levels but also includes resources to restore programs, such as recreation, which have been scaled back over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Town Manager Reagan Parsons comments, “As we began our 2021 fiscal year last July, we were facing a number of unknowns with the spread of COVID-19, so we prepared a budget that relied on collective educated assumptions and conservative approaches. I’m pleased to report that, from a financial standpoint, the past twelve months have proved far more positive than we anticipated. Sales tax revenues have been unexpectedly strong, exceeding collections from previous years in almost every month. This has allowed us to adjust our assumptions upward for the coming year, greatly helping our financial position since sales tax revenues make up over one-fourth of our operating budget.”
While the property tax rate will remain flat at $0.40, the town anticipates that overall property tax revenues will increase approximately 2.5%, based on estimated projections provided by Moore County, due to residential and commercial growth in the area. The budget projects that revenues collected from property taxes will total $11.1 million for FY 2022.
Director of Finance Tess Brubaker-Speis notes, “While Southern Pines is not experiencing the explosion in growth and property values that communities in the Triangle region are, we are faring far better than most communities in what many consider ‘rural’ North Carolina. Property taxes are the Town’s most significant source of revenues, representing nearly 60% of our total revenues. Through even small amounts of growth, we can keep our property tax rates low and still receive the revenues we need to provide the services our community expects.”
The FY 2022 budget includes funding for two additional employees, a Community Development/Long Range Planner and an Engineering Technician. This brings the town’s total authorized force to 187.5 permanent employees, in addition to seasonal employees and volunteers.
Other across-the-board personnel increases include a 2% pay scale adjustment for employees, a 3% increase to premiums for major medical insurance, and state-mandated increases to employer-provided pension contributions.
Southern Pines continues to experience increased expenses in the provision of some services, especially for hauling and disposing waste and recycling. In order to partially offset this anticipated 4% increase, the monthly waste handling fee will increase by $1.00 to a total of $12; disposal fee revenues cover less than half of the sanitation contract and landfill fees.
Water and sewer customers will see a 4% increase for both base rates and consumption rates in order to fund projects that will address both aging infrastructure and future growth. All fee increases will be effective July 1.
The Town of Southern Pines fiscal policy is to maintain a minimum undesignated balance in the General Fund equal to 25% of operating expenditures for a “rainy day fund.” In addition to this 25%, an estimated $475,000 will be available to fund additional projects or opportunities throughout the year subject to Town Council approval.
Speis shares, “I’m pleased that we are in a position to adopt a budget coming out of the pandemic that preserves 3 months of expenditures for emergencies in addition to providing $475,000 for forthcoming projects. The amount maintained in fund balance is considered a key indicator of a local government’s financial condition.”
The FY 2022 budget includes funding for a number of capital projects. Southern Pines will purchase body cameras for police officers at a total cost of $210,000 over the next five years for equipment and storage.
The town will allocate approximately $470,000 for other public safety equipment needs, including a brush truck/utility vehicle and quick response vehicle for the fire department and three vehicles and a dispatch console for the police department.
Southern Pines will invest nearly $700,000 into improving and maintaining the town’s sidewalks and roadways, including $275,000 for the annual paving projects, $210,000 for equipment to mow the rights of way, and a transfer of $200,000 to fund upcoming sidewalk projects.
The town plans to improve Elizabeth Rounds Park by investing $100,000 into new playground equipment and will also allocate $75,000 to begin the first phases of rehabilitating the dam in Reservoir Park.
The budget also includes funds to undertake master planning efforts for the recently acquired Whitehall tract in addition to two debt service payments on the loan associated with the property, which will be paid in full over the next three years.
The town plans to undertake or allocate funding toward a number of infrastructure projects throughout Southern Pines. The town will complete the installation of a 12-inch water line along East Morganton Road from Ridge Street to Valley Road at an estimated total cost over $500,000.
The budget also allocates funding toward a new 16-inch water line serving northern portions of the Town, with a current project estimate just under $2 million. Nearly $650,000 will be transferred to capital funds toward ongoing rehabilitation and replacement of the Town’s water and sanitary sewer infrastructure.
“Both the Council and Town staff deserve significant recognition for all of their efforts over the past twelve months. I am humbled by all they have been able to accomplish during this difficult year. I look forward to carrying out the directives Council has authorized through the FY 2022 Budget as we continue to enhance what already makes Southern Pines an exceptional place to reside and do business,” states Parsons.
Feature photo by Sandhills Sentinel Photographer John Patota.