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Laurel Park sets hearing on 4-cent tax increase

Councilwoman Dona Mennella and Mayor Carey O'Cain review a Laurel Park draft budget. Councilwoman Dona Mennella and Mayor Carey O'Cain review a Laurel Park draft budget.

LAUREL PARK — Laurel Park residents will see their combined town and fire tax rate rise by 4 cents if Town Council adopts the $2.46 million budget it reviewed on Tuesday.

Aside from the town tax increase from 39 to 42 cents per $100 valuation, residents would pay a penny more in fire tax. Valley Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue provides fire service under a contract with the town. Residents will also pay $4 more a month in the base rate on their water bill — to $19 a month, from $15. The water and sewer rate remain the same.
Road repairs, higher health insurance costs and a 2½ percent employee pay raise account for a higher costs in Laurel Park’s new fiscal year starting July 1, Town Manager Alison Melnikova. The revenue neutral rate — the rate that would raise the same amount of revenue as the current year’s budget — is 38.8 cents.
Henderson County reappraises real property every four years, bringing a change in the overall taxable valuation. The valuation increased in 2007 but dropped in 2011 in the aftermath of the recession. The total value rose in this year’s valuation by around 4.5 percent countywide but inched up less than that in Laurel Park and Hendersonville. Both those towns plan to raise taxes this year — Hendersonville by 2 cents. Mills River, which saw its tax base rise by 10 percent, plans to keep its town tax rate level while passing on a 1-cent fire tax increase. Flat Rock is expected to do the same, collecting the higher fire taxes for three departments that cover the village — Blue Ridge, Valley Hill and Green River.


Laurel Park Town Budget


Total budget: $2,457,800, up $116,600 from current year.
Tax rate: Up 3 cents, to 42 cents per $100 valuation. (Revenue neutral rate: 38.8 cents)
Valley Hill fire tax: Up 1 cent, to 9½ cents.
Tax increase on a $250,000 home: $100.
Water bill base rate: Up $4/month, to $19.
Revenue: Up $48,500; property taxes up $94,900. Sales tax up $30,800. Powell Bill, ABC revenue down $5,900.
Fund balance appropriation: $156,100 (compared to $88,000 this year).
Road repair and storm drainage maintenance: $222,000, up from $106,000.
Major expenses: Police vehicle ($33,000 Chevy Impala), leaf machine ($50,000), mower ($12,000) Rhododendron Lake Park ($30,000 to match a Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant), complete comprehensive land-use plan update ($16,500), SCADA computer system that runs water system ($140,000, loan from sewer fund balance).
Cost of living increase: 2½ percent ($25,000).
Not funded: Facility study, seasonal park maintenance labor, higher fire inspection fees, potential state retirement contribution increase.
Public hearing: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 16.

During a workshop last week, Laurel Park council members discussed a draft budget that raised the town tax rate by 2 cents, mainly for roadwork.
“I would have a problem with it if it were not for the Powell Bill funding decrease,” Council member Paul Hansen said last week, “because our roads need a lot of help and we’re basically making up the deficit to repair the roads.”
Mayor Carey O’Cain suggested last week that the Town Council should go even higher on the new tax rate to try to catch up on a backlog of repairs for the town’s 25 miles of roads, suggesting 2 or 3 cents more. One cent raises about $37,500.
“We own our own roads,” O'Cain said, “and we maintain them and snowplow them.” When snowbirds vacate their summer homes for the winter, “we walk around their house every day. That’s a huge benefit. If you had to outsource and have Southern Alarm come and walk around that would be huge.” (The police department conducted 1,528 security checks in April.)
“I know there would be a lot of kickback if we were to go that route” and raise taxes, he said, “but we could really do some substantial improvement.”
In her revised budget, Melnikova proposed a 3-cent tax increase. No one spoke against it.
Road repairs and future building needs are drivng the town's need for more revenue, council member Dona Mennella said Tuesday during the regular council meeting.
“It’s really a hard decision to raise the rate as much as we have but I think it’s absolutely necessary this year,” she said.
The board agreed to a request by the Parks and Greenways Advisory Committee to fund at least one park connector to link parks and walking trails.
“I would like to do that because they have some momentum on these trails and they would like to get at least one of them operational,” O’Cain said.
The town will be able to fund a crosswalk on Laurel Park Highway at Lake Drive, Melnikova said.
Besides an across-the-board cost of living increase of 2½ percent the budget contains wage adjustments of 2½ to 5 percent for public works officers and police who have cleared their probationary period or obtained advanced law enforcement certifications and to bump up more experienced lower-paid workers whose rate is now the same as new hires.
“We’re trying to balance by providing a COLA for lower paid employees because they’re paying more in premiums,” Melnikova said.