After the first of two workshops to review Red Bank’s 2023-2024 budget, the city appears to be on track for a 59-cent property tax increase. The current rate is $1.10 for every $100 of the assessed value of a property.
Officials said an increase is needed to pay for the $1,752,682 difference in the projected revenues of $8,020,965 and the total planned expenditures of $9,773,647 in the General Fund. The city also plans to pay for other expenditures with loans. Those expenses will be spread over multiple years and only the debt service for the loans is included in the proposed budget summary, not the cost of the goods.
In addition to the General Fund, the city also has Enterprise Funds, which are stand-alone funds that are segregated. Expenses in those are paid with fees, not with property taxes. One of those is the Stormwater department. There are plans to increase fees from $40 to $70 per residence to pay for an additional one and a half employees, a dump truck and a pickup truck among other expenses that will ultimately clean up Stringers Branch, prevent flooding and will end the moratorium for building and development in the city. The Solid Waste Fund, another Enterprise fund, has no budgeted change for its sanitation fee.
Four new employees in the city are planned in the General Fund, one police officer, (a second officer will be added after July that will be grant funded) two in the solid waste department and one in the Stormwater department. And there will be part-time firefighters across all shifts. In the General Fund, the increase in costs related to staffing will be $622,590.
In addition to the new employees, there are four things driving the increased personnel costs, said City Manager Martin Granum. The first is longevity bonuses that will be paid once a year on the anniversary of the date they were hired. The bonus is a percent of their pay, in one half percent increments in five-year blocks, up to a maximum of four percent at 30 years. This bonus is a reward for commitment to a career at Red Bank and an incentive to stay.
All employees will get long-term disability insurance. The city will pay $12,468 to cover all employees.
All employees will also get a seven percent cost of living adjustment.
And there will be market adjustments targeted for specific jobs. A market analysis was done by the city for comparable jobs in the area that found Red Bank was significantly underpaying employees. The biggest changes in market adjustments throughout the city, were in law enforcement. Police Chief Dan Seymour said the competition for law enforcement now is “local and fierce.” Recruiting from other agencies is taking place and, to change jobs, people do not have to relocate and disrupt their lives, said the city manager. The overall planned increase this year in the police department is $395,000. Of that $307,000 is personnel costs and $58,000 is operations costs.
The fire department will use part-time employees to increase the firefighters on duty at night from four to five. There are OSHA and TOSHA rules requiring that two firefighters must be outside while two are inside a structure, to be ready to rescue those inside if needed. The fifth person on duty will allow a rescue truck to be there as well and that provides light, spare air canisters and an extra set of eyes, said Fire Chief Brent Syler. And part-time jobs allow the ability to increase the staff on duty, so part time pay has increased $20,000 in the new budget. The budget has a big increase for medical screenings for all firefighters who have health risks associated with their jobs. There is $36,075 budgeted for medical screenings. A loan will be taken out to pay the cost for new equipment including a second set of turnout gear for each firefighter at the cost of about $3,900 each, training, technical upgrades and new hoses. The debt service on the loan is budgeted to be $137,465 a year.
Director of the Public Works Department Greg Tate said the budget reflects a seven percent increase in materials. Utilities have increased this year and there will be a personnel increase of $139,000. The biggest increase in the department will be $220,000 planned for assessments for three projects that the commissioners want to be done. A professional consultant will help the city’s new parks manager to develop a parks needs assessment at the cost of $50,000. Another consultant will be hired to work with the city staff to develop a Comprehensive Master Plan. $120,000 is in the budget for this consultant. Another $50,000 has been set aside to determine how to move forward in developing the former Red Bank Middle School site.
Mr. Granum said all involved in putting the budget together from all the departments are invested in each other’s success. Each of the department heads told the commissioners that they started asking for more than they settled on. The city manager sees this budget as a balanced approach to grow the city uniformly.
Commissioner Jamie Fairbanks Harvey said that she has received a lot of calls and emails about the many increases in this budget proposal. She said the commission needs to listen to the 11,000 people that they represent. She also asked City Manager Granum to see how salaries have increased by department from last year. She wanted a sense of what the others on the commission had been hearing.
Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton said everyone who reached out to her was supportive. She said the commissioners just needs to educate and inform the people. They could come to the budget workshops to learn and she said she was happy to see the most people she had seen at a budget workshop. There were 10 names on the sign-in sheet. The vice mayor also said she believed that the many years Red Bank had no tax increase and had the same amount of revenue is the reason that they are playing catch-up today.
Mayor Hollie Berry said it was a well thought out budget and thanked everyone who was involved in it for the hard work. She sees it containing necessary items and as a way to take a step forward.
A continuation of reviewing the proposed budget will take place at a second budget workshop next Wednesday at 5 p.m. at city hall.