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City’s $52M budget adds positions, keeps taxes level

The Hendersonville City Council will hold a public hearing this week on a $52.5 million no-new-taxes budget that raises city residents’ water bills by 12 percent, funds numerous water and sewer improvements and adds 9½ new general fund positions, including a police sergeant, a civilian animal enforcement position, a deputy fire chief, an IT director, a communications coordinator, a sustainability manager, three street maintenance workers and a parttime budget analyst.

As it raised the property tax rate by 3 cents last spring, the City Council was told it would likely need to bump the rate up by another 3 cents this year followed by a penny more next year. Higher than expected sales tax revenue and the ability to use federal American Rescue Plan money to replace lost revenue allowed the city to avoid a property tax increase this year, City Manager John Connet said.

Connet recommended nine fulltime positions plus the part-time hire. In addition, he recommended seven new hires in the water and sewer department, which is funded by water bill revenue, and three in stormwater, which is also a separate enterprise fund.

The budget also pays for numerous vehicles — seven police cruisers, three fire vehicles, and for public works a bucket truck, backhoe and pothole patcher — and pays for police bodycams, new gateway signage and new tennis courts at Patton Park to replace the Boyd Park courts that will be removed when the new Fire Station 1 is built. The city has welcome signs at its Four Seasons Boulevard and Asheville Highway entrances but not on Greenville and Spartanburg highways.

If the council adopts the new budget as expected, city residents will see a 12 percent increase in their water bill and outside customers will see an 8 percent increase. The rate changes are the result of the council’s commitment to equalize city and outside-city rates by 2030. This year’s reduction puts the outside rate at 135 percent of the city rate.

The city plans to use $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan money to offset revenue loss — half of it this year and half next year. The remaining $2 million of the city’s ARP allocation “will be used directly for transformative community projects” that have yet to be identified.

In his budget message to the council, Connet highlighted numerous “big ideas” council members pitched during a “values workshop” last year. The ideas continue to be a topic council members have interest in but have not been funded in this budget. Among them are:

  • Narrowing King Street to create a “parkway” feel. Connet said that would mean eliminating one lane where the one-way street widens to three lanes with the intent of making a less intimidating pedestrian crossing and improving the connectivity between Main Street and the Historic Seventh Avenue District.
  • Removing litter and brush on U.S. 64 around the I-26 interchange.
  • Encouraging reinvestment in Blue Ridge Mall.
  • Seeking affordable housing.
  • Protecting council members’ safety by enhancing meeting security and exploring “best practices” to develop guidance on “free speech versus threats.”
  • Creating master plans for the development of Berkeley Park, Edwards Park and the Ecusta Trail, exploring the potential to build an aquatics center and researching a bond referendum for parks and recreation.

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The City Council will hold a public hearing on the 2022-23 budget during its regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the City Operations Center, 305 Williams St.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the recommended budget contained a 12 percent increase in city water rates and 8 percent decrease in the outside-city rate. The outside-city increases by 8 percent.