City Council reviews proposed 2018-19 budget

The Wilson City Council began its annual budget discussions Wednesday night with the presentation of City Manager Grant Goings’ proposed budget. The spending plan is for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2019.

The City’s proposed annual budget includes a modest tax rate increase of two cents per $100 of taxable valuation to cover increased starting salaries for police officers. Last November, City Council approved a 15 percent increase in starting salaries for Police Officer I, Police Officer II and Senior Police Officer positions to address growing vacancies in the department.

The proposed budget totals $242 million, an increase of three percent from the current budget, and is based on a property tax rate of 57.5 cents per $100 valuation. No additional debt is recommended in the budget.

In the budget presentation, Goings also recapped significant accomplishments in the current fiscal year, including re-accreditation of the Wilson Police Department at the highest level ever achieved, the announcement of Wilson Energy electric rate parity, growing investment in downtown, expanded resurfacing of streets, and Wilson’s recent economic development success.

“We are seeing significant momentum in Wilson with positive developments across all departments,” said Goings. “The objective of this budget it to keep that momentum going.”

Police Department Salary Adjustment

Goings highlighted the impacts of the police department starting salary adjustment last fall, noting that the applicant pool has increased 118 percent and vacancies have decreased 77 percent.

“We were faced with a significant problem with police officer vacancies rising and applicant interest in the department falling,” said Goings. “We realized our starting salaries had slipped to below the average for our peer group, yet our standards remained high. We needed to take action to reverse the trend before it affected the community.”

“Your actions have produced the desired results,” Goings told City Council members.

Electric Rates Now Lowest in the Region

He also highlighted the recent history of Wilson Energy electric rates and announced that the City’s electric rates are now slightly lower than all regional providers, including Duke Energy Progress.

“Through the City’s revised wholesale power contracts, we have been able to reduce electric rates by 25 percent in the past three years, resulting in an average savings of $336 for residential customers,” said Goings. “Collectively, the Wilson community has saved $31 million since September 2015. This is the first time we have publically announced Wilson Energy has reached electric rate parity.”

Goings also highlighted increased investment and interest in downtown properties. Street resurfacing has accelerated since the adoption of the vehicle registration fee two years ago. With the increased revenue, the City can now resurface nearly 10 miles of streets each year, which will make a significant impact with each additional year of increased activity.

He also stressed the contributions of Wilson Economic Development Council and investments the City Council has made in infrastructure, including building new corporate parks, upgrades in the electric and natural gas system, and a strong wastewater and water system. In this fiscal year, nearly 600 new jobs and $175 million in investment have been added.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • A $1 monthly increase in the water base rate and a $1 monthly increase in the sewer base rate.
  • A $0.30 monthly increase in the stormwater fee to support infrastructure improvements, as recommended by the citizen-led Stormwater Committee.
  • No raises for city employees before the results of the annual audit are presented in October. This has become the City’s standard practice in recent years – to check the City’s financial status before committing to any raises. Raises have also been merit-based in recent years with no across-the-board guarantees.

Wilson’s peer group includes Kinston, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount and Greenville. The group has an average tax rate of 63.25 cents per $100 valuation.

The City Council will hold a budget work session during its morning meeting on Thursday, June 7, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Council Chambers.

The public hearing on the budget will be Thursday, June 21, beginning at 7 p.m. at City Hall. State law requires the City Council to adopt the 2018-19 budget before July 1.2018.