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Kingston dips into reserves to make budget

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By The Staff

By JENNIFER RAYMOND

jraymond@roanecounty.com

No employee raises and no property tax increase has some of the Kingston City Council feeling torn about their final budget.

Although they tried to find ways to fund a pay raise, they were unable without taking more money out of their reserve fund or looking at raising taxes.

“Because of the economy, we didn’t want to add a property tax increase,” Councilwoman Teresa Ferguson said.

However, there is an increase of $70 for Christmas bonuses, making them $370 each.

The council approved the second reading of the 2009-10 budget that includes estimated revenue of $5.065 million.

That is $33,000 less than last year’s anticipated revenue.

“It meets our bare, bare minimum of dollars we have,” Councilman Norman Sugarman said.

According to city finance director Carolyn Brewer, the city saw significant decreases in property and sales taxes.

The city will be dipping into the reserve fund in the amount of $185,675, which is slightly higher than last year.

“I’m disappointed that we have to dip into the reserves,” Mayor Troy Beets said.

The budget calls for an increase in water and sewer rates of 7 percent.

Water rates for customers inside the city limits for the first 1,000 gallons used will be $8.56 and more than 1,000 gallons is $5.92. Customers outside the city limits will see a rate of $13.42 for the first 1,000 gallons and $11.84 for anything over that.

Sewer rates for customers inside the city limits will be $8.56 for the first 1,000 gallons and $8.03 for anything more than1,000.

For customers outside the city limits, the rate for the first 1,000 gallons will be $16.01 and $12.80 for more than 1,000 gallons.

The increase in the water and sewer budget is needed to fund a five-year capital improvement plan as well as services provided by the city, such as billing.

City Manager Pinkerton said the city has seen a decrease in water revenues, and he expects no growth for the next two to three years.

In the budget for the public works department is $15,000 to help maintain Ladd Landing Boulevard with the homeowners’ association.

Eventually, the city hopes to take over the road.

The budget also includes the lease purchase of two new police cars in April 2010, which was already approved.

Money for new radios for fire and police departments was budgeted so they can communicate with the E-911 center when they switch to a new digital system.

There is also money for new equipment for firefighters, 10 new fire hydrants and computers for the finance department.

During the budget process, many council members were eyeing the future and worried about money that will be needed to pay for the firefighters that were hired last year under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant.

“We’re in the hole, and we’re going to be even more in the hole next year,” Sugarman said.

The cost the city must pay for the grant increases each year.

By year five, that number will be $300,916 and will remain there. The city will eventually take over the expense all together.

Beets said he is hoping the economy soon will turn around.

He added that some debts will be paid off next year, which will help with the added expense.

He also hopes more revenue will be brought in once Gallaher Road is developed.

“That will help the city recover from the downturn of the economy,” Beets said. “We are on the path to putting ourselves in the position to grow.