Fairmont plan keeps tax rate

First Posted: 1/15/2009

FAIRMONT - Mayor Nedward Gaddy said plans to cut the tax rate and hire a permanent town manager will have to be shelved at least until the fiscal year that arrives in 2006.
Gaddy said during a budget workship Wednesday that suggestions that the town is able to do otherwise without causing a massive deficit are an election-year “gimmick.”
Five of the town's six commissioners agreed with Gaddy that the town could not afford to cut its tax rate of 69 cents for every $100 of property valuation or pay a manager almost $88,000 a year. The sixth commissioner, Charles Kemp, was not at Wednesday's meeting.
There was no formal action on the budget Wednesday night. It is expected to be voted on Tuesday following a public hearing.
Interim Town Manager Katrina Tatum has also suggested the following cuts from the town budget: $24,300 to demolish nuisance property and code enforcement; $13,848 for a part-time recreation director; and $1,000 for the Fairmont Farmers Festival. The proposed budget also calls for combining the police chief and fire chief positions into a director of public safety for an annual savings of about $11,000.
But even with those savings, the town's deficit for next year is projected at $47,357. Tatum said the state would not penalize the town for a deficit of that size.
“I say we make the necessary cuts and move on,” said Commissioner J.J. McCree. “We've got to try to balance the budget.”
Even Commissioner Wade Sealey, who wanted to see the tax rate drop to 64 cents, said he plans to “go along with the board,” saying, “I know you need money to operate.”
But he wasn't happy about keeping the tax rate steady during a year in which property values are going up because of revaluation. Tatum's budget fixes the increase in property values at 28 percent.
If Fairmont maintains its current tax rate of 69 cents for every $100 of property valuation, a resident who now owns a $100,000 home and pays $690 in taxes would pay $883 - an increase of $193 - if his home were revalued at $128,000.
“If people have to pay more in taxes, you may not get the money anyway. They just won't pay,” Sealey said.
Kemp, saying he could not attend the workshop because of a conflict, called The Robesonian this morning to offer his opinion. He stuck to a position he laid out at a previous meeting that he would not support a budget that did not cut the tax rate.
Commissioner Mary Bruce Grantham said all the commissioners would like to lower the tax rate, “but it just isn't possible.”
“I would give anything to lower taxes, but you can't work with money you don't have,” Grantham said.
Gaddy said residents need to remember that the town still has to address infrastructure needs that have been delayed for years.
“We have to consider what we have to do,” he said. “There are holes in the streets and buildings that leak. We've got equipment costs and gas bills going up every day. These are things we can't ignore.”
Gaddy said Tatum will have to remain in the manager's position for now. She is being paid $50,000 to perform the job on an interim basis and is also working as the town's code enforcement officer.
The town, which has received 59 applications for the position, will have to suspend the search for a town manager. Tatum told the board that if it hired a manager at the projected salary of $88,721 with no increase in revenue, the town could only fund the position for three years.
“There's not much more we can do,” Gaddy said. “If you cut here, but add there, it is just a gimmick. I want to win in November too, but I have to be truthful and do what is best for Fairmont.”

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