SILER CITY — It’s that time of year: budget time. Siler City staff presented its annual budget proposal before the board of commissioners last week.
Town Manager Hank Raper, Budget Manager Jenifer Johnson, town department heads and staff worked for months on a proposed municipal budget for the upcoming 2024 fiscal year. The Siler City proposed operating budget for the upcoming year is set to be at $20,659,071 — a 12% increase from last year.
“The budget obviously has to increase over the next several years each year just because of the growth that’s coming into our city,” Raper said.
This year’s budget was designed to address five strategic priorities the board of commissioners developed when crafting the town’s strategic plan:
• Facilitate responsible growth and community development
• Plan and implement sustainable infrastructure
• Achieve organizational and operational excellence
• Enhance community engagement
• Provide a high level of public safety
To address each priority, the budget has been divided into four pieces: the general fund, the Powell Bill fund (which is used to maintain, repair, construct or widen streets, bridges, and drainage areas), the water and sewer fund and the License Plate Agency fund.
The general fund is used to fund a majority of the town’s departments and operations, such as:
• The Police Dept.
• The Fire Dept.
• Street lights
• Solid waste collection
• Recreational facilities and programming
• Public property maintenance
• The municipal airport
• The Planning Dept.
• The Community Development Dept.
• Street maintenance
• Finance and Human resources
• The town’s stormwater program
The general fund is proposed to be $9,780,973, an increase of more than $1 million from last year’s budget. Some departments are slated to receive an increase in funds, and others are set to see a decrease, including SCPD, the fire department, the finance department and more. However, Raper said the reason for the decreased budgets was that the town’s IT services, along with other operations, were moved into the non-departmental funds.
Raper said this will allow for departments, such as the Siler City Police Dept., to use its funds to expand services or to purchase equipment to streamline work.
“For example, some of the lines of their budget had to deal with building maintenance, keeping up the facility … but we moved that to the public buildings section with the Public Works Dept. that way all building maintenance is centralized,” Raper said.
One of the main priorities of this year’s budget is to address Siler City’s water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure needs. The proposed FY 2024-25 budget allocates $10.6 million to address water and stormwater issues in Siler City. This includes addressing the steps laid out in the Special Order by Consent (SOC) the town entered with N.C.’s Dept. of Environmental Quality in March.
Raper said, however, the main reason for the increase in water and stormwater’s budget was because of the increased cost to operate the water treatment facilities. He said to help provide more funds to the water and stormwater programs, the proposed budget also instates a water and sewer utility rate increase, one Raper said is overdue by almost seven years.
“Our city has not increased rates since July 2016 — inflation is 25.44% since that period of time,” he said. “We were seeing an increase in the cost of chemicals to run the water and wastewater plant, $400,000, and then also another quarter million dollars attributable to sludge, so you’ve got close to three quarters of a million dollars in increased costs.”
According to the N.C. Water and Wastewater report, only about 20% of North Carolina municipalities haven’t updated their rates since 2018 or earlier. That same report also recommends reevaluating rates every year or every other year to account for inflation, which Siler City hasn’t done in recent years.
Moving forward, Raper said he wants to do small increases to the utility rates every year, which he believes will help lower the impact on residents paying their bills.
“The longer you go without raising rates, it leads to a more substantial impact,” he said. “What I will be recommending to commissioners going forward is, after this increase is done, that we try to follow … at least other utility contracts we have, such as the GFL contract we have for solid waste collection. They’re going up 3% a year, so just to be consistent.”
The budget process will be different moving forward, according to Raper. Budget Manager Johnson was named to her position earlier this year, and she will focus on budget needs on a year round basis.
Raper said by taking the whole year to develop the next budget, it will ensure funds are allocated where they are needed.
“The budget process started a lot later in the budget year, which is what was always done in our city,” he said. Johnson and Raper plan to begin the FY 2025 budget process shortly after the approval of the current budget.
A public hearing on the proposed FY 2024 budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 5, during the board of commissioner’s regular meeting. Residents are encouraged to comment and provide feedback.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.