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City budget raises utility bills, adds $1 garbage fee

Hendersonville residents would see a 5 percent water and sewer increase and a new $1 a month fee for garbage, recycling and leaf pickup under a proposed $26.5 million city budget that keeps the property tax level.

The proposed budget, which City Manager Bo Ferguson submitted to City Council members on Friday, sets aside $40,000 to explore the idea of an aquatic center at Patton Park, funds new lighting at Patton Park, pays for roof repairs on the city-owned former Grey Hosiery Mill, funds the third phase (600 block) of the Main Street improvement program and fully funds a merit increase for city employees for the first time in four years.

The city manager had penciled in $40,000 to explore the idea of an aquatic center at Patton Park but the City Council directed him to shift that money instead to the fund it uses to grant appropriations to non-profit agencies and special projects.

The budget, 2 percent higher than the current year’s spending plan, is light on new major capital projects. The largest capital project is a new fire truck for $600,000 (replacing a 1974 model) and an allocation of $1.98 million to start planning and design of a new fire station on Sugarloaf Road. The City Council is exploring whether to renovate an existing structure on the property or build a new station, Ferguson said.

City residents pay for the spending through a property tax of 41 cents per $100 valuation and other fees. The recommended 5 percent water-sewer rate increase would cost city residents $1.20 a month and non-city customers $1.86 a month. Ferguson pointed out that household light bills will be hit a lot harder than that if state regulators agree to Duke Power’s request for a 17 percent increase.

The $1 extra fee for the environmental services fund would generate $27,000 a year or $270,000 over 10 years, enough to buy a street sweeper.

“Although property tax values continue to fall, increased collection rates have held the total steady,” Ferguson said in his budget message. “The sales tax is showing signs of life and we are budgeting a modest increase for the first time in four years.” (Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt last week reported an upward trend also, but added that the gain had been tailing off in the past couple of months.)

The Main Street program budget is $383,000, funded by the downtown property tax of 28 cents per $100 valuation. The Historic Seventh Avenue District has a budget of $52,000, paid for by a 12-cent levy. Among the Seventh Avenue expenditures are $5,000 for depot plaza renovations and the $21,000 salary of a part-time director.

Among the highlights of the recommended budget:

  • Tablet computers council members would use to follow agenda items instead of paper.
  • Patton Park parking lot lighting.
  • Roof repairs for the city-owned mill, $5,000.
  • Paving 1.4 miles of city streets.
  • New meters in the Dogwood parking lot, $14,500.
  • Aquatic center feasibility study, $40,000.
  • Two police cars, $52,000.
  • 2.5 percent merit increase and 1 percent cost of living for employees.
  • A new employee wellness program, fully funded by savings the city has gained in how it administers health insurance.

Non-profit agencies and other government groups made requests that the council will take up before . Requests include:

  • Chamber of Commerce, $10,000.
  • Flat Rock Playhouse, $100,000.
  • Mayors Advisory Council, $500.
  • Henderson County Rescue Squad, $8,000.
  • Heritage Museum, $10,000.
  • Hendersonville Symphony, $20,000.
  • Boys and Girls Club, $20,000.
  • Team ECCO, $6,000.
  • Public schools, $10,000.
  • Mainstay, $5,000.
  • Mineral museum, $10,000.
  • Mills River Partnership, $168,700.
  • Partnership for Economic Development, $10,000.
  • Henderson County Agribusiness, $10,000.
  • Community Partnership for Pets, $50,438.
  • Hendersonville Little Theatre, $69,900.

The Mills River partnership was created about 12 years ago as a response to pollution threats along the Mills River, the public water supply for Hendersonville and most of its outlying communities. It has been revived and is seeking funding from the cities of Hendersonville and Asheville to renew watershed protection. In the past the partnership has recommended that the city attach a small surcharge of 25 cents or so to all water bills to fund the effort. In Friday’s workshop the council said no to funding the partnership in the 2012-23 budget.

A public hearing on the budget and its adoption are set for June 7.