See if you can find the Easter egg in this $11,000 diorama of Downtown New Bern that resides at City Hall. Go here for the answer and other fun facts from Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

The Board of Aldermen got their first look at a proposed $125 million spending plan that keeps the wheels rolling at City Hall without costing constituents a penny more — but that could change by the time the budget is approved next month.

The board met Tuesday and spent just over an hour hearing an overview of the fiscal year 2019 spending plan draft, which as presented is a1.91 percent increase over this year.

Here are areas that may cost citizens more:

  • The board may consider moving sanitation out of general fund. It is running $193,000 in the red, subsidized by general fund. Includes leaf and limb service. Would need to increase by $3 to $17.75 to break even.
  • Motor vehicle tax increase—City gets $5 per licensed vehicle tag. Most cities charge $15-$25. Some as high as $30. First $5 is unrestricted; the city can spend it any way it wants. Anything over that must be used for road improvements. Each $5 generates $125,000 in revenue.
  • Ad valorem tax rate increase—It had been .41. The current rate, .46, is a hair shy of revenue neutral. A 1 cent increase would result in $310,000 revenue. City Hall is looking at a 1 cent rate increase due to revaluation because county and Havelock already adjusted theirs.
  • Electric rates remain the same for now, but may increase (we’ll find out in January starting in April or July)

Key takeaways from the draft budget proposal:

  • A balanced budget with no ad valorem tax increase unless the board so chooses to fund large projects
  • Increase in city staff size by one position
  • Merit-based pay increases for employees of 1-2.5 percent, and zero for those who aren’t performing as well.
  • Continue projects started in FY2018.
  • The same utility rates but electric rates may be an increase (the city will find out in January, with any rate increase starting somewhere between April and July)

Considerations city staff took into account when creating the draft include:

  • Maintain current level of operations and a balanced budget
  • Present options to recover costs for sanitation services
  • Look for ways to fund larger projects

Goals were:

  • Invest in staff
  • Ensure public safety meets requirements
  • Enhance parks and recreation opportunities
  • Maintain fiscal responsibility
  • Invest in city infrastructure
  • Promote economic development

Now, some details.

City staffing:

Net increase of one position, a fire inspector, due to increased demands. Also adds a substation technician in the electric department. Leaving positions vacant or realigning other positions will result in 461 positions at City Hall.

The breakdown of city positions:

  • General fund—97 positions (includes police and fire)
  • Water—37 positions
  • Sewer—40 positions
  • Electric—79 positions
  • Stormwater—6 positions
  • Other funded positions—2 positions

Recent staffing additions, including one proposed, are related to city growth: City Hall previously added a building inspector, and now needs an additional a fire inspector

Alderman Bobby Aster said the quartile system of awarding merit raises does not always sit well for people who get called out at night and know how to do everything but who get only the 1 percent raise. It penalizes senior employees, he said.

Merit-based pay increases for employees would be 1 to 2.5 percent, and zero for those with average or poorer performance.

City Manager Mark Stephens said the system was implemented because the city was losing people early in their careers after great expense to the city training them. Intent was to raise newer, good employees up to the midpoint range more quickly.

Raises would be effective July 30.

Other spending priorities:

  • 10 new police vehicles.
  • Renewed emphasis on maintenance and improvements for parks, ballfields, playgrounds, recreation centers, etc.
  • Funding for special recreation activities and youth sports. The city can build four to six pickle ball courts on what was two used tennis courts
  • Outdoor pickle ball courts and major Kidsville renovation. Kidsville playground was shut down pending repair work. Built in late 1980s, the wooden playground has been showing its age.
  • Begin implementation of Martin Marietta Park master plan

Continue projects started in FY2018. They include:

  • Trent Road substation rebuild
  • Continued Township 7 improvements
  • Continued West New Bern improvements
  • Continue AMI implementation
  • Additional water/sewer system improvements
  • Vehicle replacements
  • Move to new facility
  • Craven/South Front Street site development
  • VOLT Center (on First Street at the old Electric Utilities building)
  • Train Depot renovation
  • Guion/Dunn Street railroad crossings
  • $800,000 budgeted for various improvements for city streets and Lawson Creek Park
  • Pavement resurfacing, crack sealing, full-depth repairs, pavement striping, sidewalk and curbing improvements, etc.
  • Additional $85,000 for sidewalk maintenance
  • Street survey updated to identify needed street repairs
Large projects
  • Oaks Road resurfacing—$800,000
  • Old Airport Road—$1.3 million. Another $687,000 is coming from state for Airport Road for paving sections it owns.
  • Trent Road widening—$2 million. No chip-in from state because tied in with the Alfred Cunningham Bridge swap. City took over responsibility of 13 miles of streets from the state in exchange for the state taking over responsibility of the bridge.
  • Martin Marietta Park—$5 million
  • New fire station—$2.5 million to build with $958,000 operating cost
  • Public investment for redevelopment and economic development—TBD
  • Total—$11.6 million with $958,000 in annual operating costs

How to pay for all that?

Current budget frees up $200,000 toward those expenses.

An additional $280,000 would be available per year by creating a self-sustaining sanitation utility—but would result in higher sewer fees for city residents.

An additional $300,000 would be available per year by adding 1 cent per $100 of value to the ad valorem tax rate—a tax increase.

The city could also increase its vehicle registration fee. It’s $5 per registration now, which the city could spend any way it wants. It could raise it by another $5, but that money would have to got to street maintenance and improvements. It could raise it yet another $5, but that would have to go to transportation or street improvements.

What’s next:

May 1 and 2 workshops. Public hearing on May 8. Budget adoption on May 22. Other meetings as necessary.

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