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Smithfield approves $15 million town budget

Property taxes flat, but sewer fees set to increase

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SMITHFIELD — The Smithfield Town Council unanimously approved a $15 million 2019-20 budget at its June 4 meeting. The new budget goes into effect July 1.

Town Manager Mike Scott described the town’s fiscal policy as “pay as we go.”

“We no longer move money from electric fund to general fund to pay general fund expenditures,” said Scott. “That’s a practice we ended, a practice we’re not starting again.”

Scott said one budget highlight is that the town’s property tax rate remains 57 cents per $100 in property value, where it’s remained for 16 years.

“Also, all three of our funds, general, electric and water/sewer, are balanced,” said Scott. “Electric fees and charges and the water fees remain the same.”

The one exception are the sewer rates, which will increase 10%, to coincide with a 10% Johnston County sewer rate increase.

Scott said the general fund’s balance remains above the 25% fiscal policy requirement and the town is maintaining medical employee benefits at the same level.

“The budget provides for a salary adjustment equal to a 2.5% increase, effective Jan. 1,” said Scott.

Scott outlined the major capital expenditures in the 2019-20 budget.

A $1 million clear well is budgeted for the town’s water plant. During the public comments, that expenditure drew protests from two Smithfield residents.

“The existing clear well tank is sufficient,” said Emma Gemmell of Hancock Street. “The 90% rule has nothing to do with this new tank, even with the increases in county water. If we have two tanks, one tank will not be used but will need to be maintained, used or not. Sewer and water pipe leaks need to be addressed before we venture down this water plant expansion further. In our research, we don’t need more water. We greatly need sewer and water repairs.”

“Obviously, if our town needs a new finishing tank, we should get one,” said Pam Lampe of North Second Street. “However, Em Gemmell and I have stated we don’t need a clear well tank that would require closing North Second Street. We need facts to justify the purchase of a new tank and no one provided them. “

No one responded to Gemmell and Lampe’s comments.

Scott said there were potential future issues facing Smithfield.

“Utility Financial Solutions are currently evaluating the town’s water rate structure,” said Scott. “Electric rates were reduced 4.5% for town customers in fiscal year 2018. In April 2019, ElectriCities increase its wholesale rate for electricity by 1.2%. The town is not passing along this increase to the customer.”

Scott said an additional 3% increase in the wholesale rate is projected for April 2020.

“Smithfield rates are budgeted to remain steady through fiscal year 2020,” said Scott. “Additional evaluation of the rate structure will need to take place in fiscal year 2021.”

Mayor Pro-tem Travis Scott said one way Smithfield could save money is to remove the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatic Center from its budget.

“There are no rules which say we can’t,” said Scott. “SRAC is a huge burden for the town of Smithfield. I’m elected by the people to do the right thing. I want you to replace me if I’ve not done the right thing. I certainly hope as we move forward that we can support this as a group.”

Scott also said Smithfield provides services other communities don’t.

“We have a public works department that picks up trash and yard debris,” said Scott. “Other communities have made the choice not to do that. But I have to support this budget. We’re getting a dang good deal for our money.”

Councilman David Barbour said people are moving to Johnston County from Wake County and Raleigh because of a higher cost of living there.

“We have more and more people coming here because they’ve priced them out of the market,” said Barbour.“We have to be sure we prepare for our future and this town has done a good job of doing that. We have to be good stewards, but we also have to be good employers to our employees. This budget is in line with providing opportunities for growth while protecting our citizens.”

Councilman Emory Ashley discussed the impact of this year’s county property tax revaluation on Smithfield residents.

I don’t like a budget that’s not revenue-neutral,” said Ashley. “I’ve been on the council seven years. We’ve been through tough times, got healthy by being frugal. This budget gets us on the right track, provide services people need. I’m not not happy this budget will be a tax increase for some of our citizens. We want police and fire departments that are top-notch, our trash picked up and high-quality service for our community. As much disdain as I have for raising taxes on anyone, I support this budget.”

“This was a hard budget for a lot of us,” said Councilman David Stevens. “Former Councilman Perry Harris did a lot of work to get our finances back on track. We were in very good shape when I got here two years ago, Now we have the opportunity to move forward. I hate taxes are the way they are, but we have to keep moving forward.”

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