Town begins to look at 2014-15 fiscal budget

Budget discussions are already headed in a different direction this year, thanks to new Pineville town administrator Haynes Brigman and recently hired finance director Richard Dixon.

It’s the first budget the two will craft together, and it comes after last year’s budget season where town council and staff were forced to create a budget on their own, as both the administrator and finance director positions were vacant.

“It’s been a very difficult task trying to figure out what this year’s fiscal budget is,” Brigman said at the council’s first budget workshop meeting March 4, referring to how last year’s
budget was organized. “We’ve had to do a lot of research. It’s been a tough ordeal for us, and we’ve had to make some assumptions.”

But before Brigman and Nixon can start laying out the specifics for 2014-15, they need input from town council on Pineville’s top priorities – including areas in need of focus and growth, expansion projects and initiatives that will help move the town forward.

Some of those priorities include public safety, more discussion on the Civic & Cultural Arts Center of Pineville and the town’s arts and cultural scene, expansion for Pineville Parks and Recreation, the farmers market, Phase III of Jack Hughes Park and talks of establishing a fire tax in a move toward paid employees at the fire department. Other priorities include a solution to what should be done with a handful of unincorporated neighborhoods in 28134 off Lancaster Highway, road repairs, new Christmas decorations, insurance rates for town staff, more focus on Pineville Telephone and a compensation study for town employees, as well as various initiatives to show more employee
appreciation.

Town leaders also are in a place to seriously start working on a plan for a new Pineville town hall, which also would one day house a new library in town, likely in the space of the old Pineville Police Department building.

“To me, I think we need to prioritize to make a combo building and mixed-use space,” councilman Les Gladden said. Councilwoman Debbie Fowler suggested the space could also include some retail space, which also would attract new businesses to town.

“Right now, (the old police department) is an eye sore,” Mayor Pro-tem Melissa Rogers Davis chimed in.

Such projects like a new town hall building and expansion of Jack Hughes Park could be part of the town’s first capital improvement plan, an infrastructure blueprint used in most surrounding municipalities. Brigman and Dixon are bringing the new idea for a CIP in Pineville to help better prepare for large expenditures the town could expect to have over a five- to seven-year period. The CIP would help town staff better plan for Pineville’s future, Brigman said, and would include items like vehicle maintenance or purchase, construction or land acquisition. Nearby Indian Trail recently established a CIP, supported by a 4-cent tax increase, that has paid for sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements.

“It removes the big costs out of the operational budgets of (town) departments. (Department) budgets will shrink, but that’s because (projects) will end up on the capital investment plan,” Brigman said.

The plan also will put more pressure on department managers to better plan for budget needs. Emergencies like broken down equipment will still come up, Brigman said, but for the most part, the town should be able to plan for future needs and the CIP will help that effort.

Additionally, Brigman would like to see better documentation of line items from town staff and department heads.

Brigman also recommended council set a fund balance resolution, which would set a limit for the town’s balance. Pineville currently has about 106 percent fund balance, and Brigman recommends a 40 to 50 percent limit.

“We’ve got a lot of new ideas. We don’t want to come with that shock factor, but we definitely have seen areas for improvement,” Brigman said.

Pineville historically has operated on a conservative budget, Brigman said. The town will face some budget challenges this budget season, and with Pineville’s growing population, budget dollars are stretched.

Mecklenburg County will continue through the year reviewing property revaluations from 2011, after many properties were valued poorly, and will soon have to conduct a new revaluation. That, among other things, could affect the county’s tax rate, which all Pineville residents pay, and property tax revenue. The county, in preliminary budget discussions this year, discussed the possibility of decreasing taxes after last year’s tax increase. The county won’t pass its budget until this summer, like Pineville.

“I’ve looked at where Pineville really falls on (the county’s review) schedule and unfortunately, we’re at the very end,” Brigman said. “But we can go ahead and get an idea of how these values will affect the real estate coming in. We are probably looking at a $15 million real estate loss – about $50,000 in loss in revenue for the
town.”

Another funding cut could come from the state level, where lawmakers are considering placing more restrictions on business license revenues.

“We would lose around $500,000 to $600,000 in revenue loss. We’ve done what we can to show we oppose this reform,” Brigman added.

Budget workshops will continue through April, with a meeting scheduled for April 2, a Wednesday, at 5 p.m. in the Pineville Police Department training room, 427 Main St. That meeting will cover budgetary needs for public safety, public works and administration departments. A second meeting, to be held April 17, a Thursday, at 5 p.m. at the police department training room, will cover budgetary needs for telephone, electric, parks and recreation and planning departments. The proposed budget will be presented to council on May 13, a Tuesday, during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting, and could be adopted during a meeting on June 10, a Tuesday. Council meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at The Hut, 413 Johnston Drive.

 

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