Clemmons approves tax rate increase

Published 12:01 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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Village adopts $10M budget, agrees to use $6.1M rescue funding on most costly stormwater projects

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

The Village of Clemmons moved forward with its first tax rate increase in a decade, going from 11.5 cents to 15 cents per $100 of property tax value while adopting the budget ordinance and stormwater utility fee rate in Monday night’s council meeting.

The total operating budget for the two major funds is a record $10,010,485 for the General Fund for fiscal year 2021-22 and $1,528,450 for the Stormwater Fund.

“We have spent hours and hours looking at different tax rates, looking at cutting more services, looking at all sorts of things, but at the end of the day as (Village Manager) Mr. (Scott) Buffkin pointed out, this is the most fiscally responsible recommendation from staff,” Mayor John Wait said.

The final council vote was 3-1 with Scott Binkley, Mary Cameron and Mike Rogers voting in favor of approval and Chris Wrights opposed. Councilwoman Michelle Barson was not present at Monday night’s meeting.

In another major decision involving finances later in the lengthy meeting, the council agreed by consensus to commit the $6.1 million in federal funding coming to Clemmons through the American Rescue Plan Act to be applied toward the village’s most expensive stormwater projects.

Wes Kimbrell, stormwater engineer, said he would like to step outside the normal standard and address the largest projects regardless of rank and work from the top price projects down until all the funds are spent.

“What I’m recommending is staff step outside with this funding mechanism and address all large-cost projects because we don’t know if we’ll ever see this kind of financial resource come to us without any form of interest or pay back debt ever,” Kimbrell said.

Earlier in the meeting, the council heard comments from residents in a public hearing on the budget — before the decisive vote — with most speakers questioning the timing of a tax rate increase coming after the coronavirus pandemic and during a year of property tax revaluation — and the resulting tax hikes from that.

“We need to step back, we’re talking about the year after the disaster, when everybody’s still recovering taking the tax rate to its legal maximum in a year when our property values have gone up,” Allen Daniel said.

Gail Blevins, who lives on Hampton Road, said she was speaking personally and for neighbors. “On top of COVID and all the other costs that we’re facing, I don’t think this is the opportune time to impact us with more increases,” she said.

Blevins questioned why “all the hundreds of new homes being developed around me” aren’t helping the budget, to which Wait replied, “When you build new houses, that’s actually a negative on the budget. So when those new homes get built, it doesn’t add to the tax base in a way. It takes it away because of providing services to those homes.”

Theresa Hoffman-Makar said she was speaking for her brother, Brian Hoffman, who is a Clemmons resident living on a fixed income who has a disability. She expressed concerns about poverty levels and worsening the impact after “two economic shocks” — COVID and the property revaluation “where homeowners saw increases from 10% to 50%.”

Charles Sherrill said that he thought “the idea that our current level of services are up to par is really kind of comical,” and said he was in favor of changing the tax rate.

“Frankly, it’s long overdue,” Sherrill said. “I think we have a history here of councils of being not just prudent but tight with money. I would urge you to do what you need to do because there’s a storm coming. We’re facing a period of historic inflation. The costs of doing these projects is going nowhere but up.”

Council members responded after the public comments with Rogers saying during budget meeting discussions that he was adamant if the tax rate was raised, it was going to be for asphalt.

“It was going to build our infrastructure,” Rogers said. “It was going to take care of the issues we have — street resurfacing and paving. It was not going to be spent on another darn thing.”

Rogers said that the state is not providing funding to keep up with the local need.

“We’re going backwards folks,” he said. “Where are the funds going to come from to maintain our roads? The consultants say we need to spend $800,000 a year to maintain our roads. We ain’t got the money.”

As for the tax rate, Rogers said he thought Clemmons has been very reasonable with keeping it in check for years while providing quality services.

“We have not gone up since 2010,” he said. “We could have been going up a ½ cent a year, but we didn’t because our citizens didn’t want to raises taxes. Now the other shoe dropped. I’m not going sit here and watch our streets crumble and our neighborhood values go down and our business district — people won’t be here. You want more value for your home, you want better streets, you want better amenities. The only way to do it is to pay for it. Can’t drink champagne on a beer budget, folks.”

Cameron said that the timing couldn’t have been worse to raise the tax rate but that Clemmons will still be one of 49 municipalities out of 550 in the state with a tax rate of 15 cents or less.

“That’s why we were going to do it last year,” she said. “We felt it would be better to do it in a year when we didn’t have a revaluation. That didn’t happen because of COVID. As Mr. Rogers eloquently pointed out, we can keep putting this off, but sooner or later we’re going to have to pay the piper. Now is the time to do it.

“Businesses pick up the extra costs. Houses don’t pay for themselves, but the businesses do. So any time you want to complain about too many businesses coming in, keep that in mind. They’re paying part of the freight so that we can keep our taxes low.”

Wrights said that he couldn’t support the budget or the tax increases associated with it for a couple of reasons.

“The first one is I think we’re hitting our citizens and businesses with too much at one time,” he said. “With the new property revaluations everybody is seeing at least an average of 10 to 12% increase in their property taxes.”

Wrights said that the stormwater fee will increase from $60 to $90 annually and perhaps higher in the future with the new tier system, and although there are many projects that need to be addressed, he said the $6 million that will be used from the American Rescue Plan toward stormwater will “knock out a huge chunk of those projects” at one time.

“The second reason is I feel like we’re spending too much at one time is you look at the budget last year and we spent $5.9 million. This year we budgeted $8.4 million, and are going to spend $7.7 million, and next year we’re looking at budgeting $10 million. That’s a 20% increase from this year to next year and a 60% increase from last year to next year. The prices of these budgets are just getting out of control. We’ve got to get a little bit of a grip on the spending at some point.”

He added that this year the village had a budget of $8.4 million with $2.3 million of that being spent on roads while next year’s $10 million budget only includes $2 million for roads.

“Our budget is going up $1.6 million, but the amount of money being spent on paving is going down $300,000, he said. “So how is that tax rate really going to pay for roads?”

In other highlights from Monday night’s meeting, the council:

• Approved Zoning Text Amendment C-UDO-84 to amend multiple sections in Chapter C Environmental Ordinance of the Unified Development Ordinances to strengthen stormwater requirements for public health, welfare and safety after a public hearing where no one spoke. Kimbrell said that this is like “us going from what we had as being one of the strongest stormwater regulations in the state to being almost the strongest. What does that say? It says that developers are not going to be happy with it, but we’re looking out for our citizens and protecting them.

• Heard from Buffkin that the Peter Clemmons House Historic Market Dedication will take place on July 21 at 10 a.m.

• Heard that E-Recycle will be Saturday, June 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Public Works Facility.