Aberdeen town commissioners and department heads attended an all-day budget retreat on Friday to review recent town projects and discuss funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.
Town Manager Paul Sabiston began the meeting with a brief note about town taxes. This coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is a reevaluation year, meaning that property values will be reassessed. He said there is a lot of “guesswork” right now on how much taxes will change, but the town has estimated a 25 to 35 percent increase for values.
In revaluation years, Moore County and its municipalities frequently adopt “revenue neutral” budgets by lowering the tax rate to account for the higher property values.
Sabiston also noted the town is in a good transition with projects because a number of them are finished or wrapping up, like the new police department and the Aberdeen Sportsplex.
Aberdeen also experienced increased revenues and expenditures between July 2022 and February 2023.
Financial Officer Butch Watson said town’s revenues were $21.48 million — about a $1.6 million increase from the previous year. Expenditures were $17.8 million, compared to $15.27 million the prior year. Watson said this increase is likely because of the number of projects the town funded.
Reviews of recent projects and capital improvement requests from each department for the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year are listed below.
A big focus of the retreat’s discussions Friday revolved around retention of employees. Smaller towns like Aberdeen have long struggled to recruit experienced staff or remain competitive with larger communities that can offer higher salaries and benefits.
“At the end of the day, money is important — we have to stay competitive on the money side — but it’s about more than money, and it’s something I talk about with our department heads regularly,” Town Clerk Regina Rosy said. “We have to have an environment here that people want to work in and enjoy working in, so we try to make our town a fun town to work for.”
The town currently has 110 full-time employees and about 50 part-time employees, depending on the season. Rosy proposed a three-tier plan of retention bonuses at the budget retreat. That plan was approved at Monday night’s work session by the town Board of Commissioners.
Full-time employees will be offered a $2,500 bonus, part-time employees working 1,000 hours per year will be offered $1,250, and part-time employees regularly working at least 16 hours per week will be offered $800.
The bonuses total $308,000, but money previously allotted for salaries of vacant positions will cover the costs. The total saved money during the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year is currently $506,000 but is projected to be around $700,000.
Rosy said the bonuses will create “leverage” and serve as a “great tool” for the town to retain workers and remain competitive.
Parks and Recreation
Recreation Director Adam Crocker reported renovations at the Malcolm Blue Farm to level the historic house and blacksmith shop went well and that Main Street Park's new restrooms and shelter are moving along.
On the programming side, Crocker noted a decrease in participation in the athletics program, with 54 fewer children last year than in the prior year. But he expects it to bounce back up.
The department increased its day camp capacity to 40 kids from 30 last year, which was reduced because of COVID restrictions. He hopes to increase the total to 60 children eventually but said the most prominent issue is staffing.
Crocker proposed two capital improvements for the 2023-2024 budget, including replacing the playground equipment at the Aberdeen Lake Park and buying a new mower.
He said he constantly gets the question, “Why is that playground pink?” The equipment was once red but faded over time because of the sun. Along with a new playground, he mentioned using a rubber-based platform rather than mulch in the play area to make it more accessible to children and family members.
The estimated cost is $185,000 for the park upgrades and $10,000 for the mower.
The department has future goals of improving the walking trail by paving it and updating Ray’s Mill Park by extending the path and adding “natural-looking” play equipment.
Public Works Director Harold Watts reported increased services for residents, comparing them over a four-year period. Solid waste and recycling volumes increased by six and seven percent, respectively. Yard debris collection increased by 20 percent, and water production increased by 10 percent.
He said there are no significant issues with water or sewer capacity and that the town will be able to serve all projected growth with its current systems.
One project the department has worked on over the past year is switching to an automated water meter reading system, which helps identify leaks faster for the town to notify customers. Watts said 97.5 percent of readers are in place, up from 77.86 percent last year, with about 250 meters left to install.
The town is also transitioning to a monthly billing system from bi-monthly for water bills, and Watts hopes to roll it out by July 1.
Watts presented several improvement projects based on the various work the department covers. His proposal included buying new equipment, like a new truck for yard debris collection, a mini excavator and an asphalt hot box trailer system — all of which would improve the department’s ability to work on town projects. These projects would cost about $930,000.
He also presented a resurfacing project totaling $600,000 and funded by the Powell Bill, a grant awarded annually to towns by the N.C. Department of Transportation for maintaining and constructing municipal streets. Aberdeen budgeted $400,000 last year, but the town did not spend it because of pricing and contractor availability, so those funds will roll over to this year.
Further projects within water and sewer include the development of well No. 29, located at Legacy Lakes. Testing by the N.C. Department of Water Quality is expected by the end of the year and will allow for the next phase of development on the site once cleared.
The well and the replacement of water lines along Bethesda Road are estimated at $650,000. But untouched funds from the American Rescue Plan, awarded to towns to mitigate the effects of COVID, will pay for them.
The town will also have to pay $44,000 for the next two years because of a new type of water testing from the EPA called UMCR5.
Maintenance Supervisor Matt Campbell reported that his team worked to repair the old Aberdeen Elementary School boilers so the auditorium and gym can be used.
He presented several projects across various buildings for the upcoming year, ranging from repainting walls to repairing floors.
The two largest expenses were $80,000 for an 80-kilowatt generator so the parks and recreation department can remain operational in case of a power outage and replacing the old tar and gravel roof on the old school’s gym and auditorium for $155,000.
Interim Planning Director John Terziu reported steady revenue from zoning and subdivision fees over the past few years, with over $17,000 collected this year and a projected revenue at $40,000 each year. The projected revenue for building permit fees this year is $347,626.
He said the projected number of inspections for 2023 is 6,450, which averages about 25 per day. This amount is up from 2022, when the average was 20 per day.
A significant project the department is working on is to create a safer event space downtown, utilizing the space within the triangular junction of railroad tracks — called a wye — next to High Octane at the corner of South Street and South Sycamore Street.
The project will collaborate with the railroad. At the town board’s work session on Monday night, Terziu said the town would pay about $30,000, splitting the cost with the railroad.
He also clarified that it would not be a park but an event space for the town and railroad. The Board of Commissioners authorized staff to move forward with developing plans on Monday night and to return to the board.
Another capital improvement he suggested would increase parking off of Talbooth Street. The idea is to reconfigure the current parking lot and make Knight Street a true one-way by expanding the lot to accommodate straight rather than angled parking. The project would cost $150,000 and increase parking by 18 more spots.
Police Chief Carl Colasacco talked about the department’s current efforts with community-based programming, including its Law Enforcement Explorers and Shop-with-a-Cop programs.
Colasacco reported an increased call volume in 2022, over 25,000 calls — the highest since 2019. He said incidents are down 3.87 percent from 2021, arrests are up 4.83 percent, citations are down 0.3 percent, but drug overdoses were up 36 percent.
The department will host a few classes through the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association this year, saving the department about $4,800 in travel and course expenses.
Capital improvement projects for the police department include hiring one more officer, budgeted at $57,000, buying three unmarked cars at $44,000 per car, three car cameras for $15,000, five body cameras for $4,800 and three radar units for $4,070.
The department must also buy 16 more mobile radios before the state law changes on Jan. 1, 2025, making all non-low band radios obsolete. These new radios would comply with regulations.
Fire Chief Phillip Richardson said the addition and remodel of Station 2 is finished and that the SAFER grant, awarded to help the department lower response times with the additional staffing, helped hire six new firefighters.
He reported that the department responded to 2,181 calls in 2022, the highest amount in the last decade. Of these calls, 571 were overlapping, meaning the department was already on a call when a second one came in.
The big-ticket request from the department was a tanker truck for Station 2, totaling $325,000. The truck carries large amounts of water and would help the department when going to calls in rural areas where hydrants don’t exist.
He also proposed restructuring personnel across the two fire stations, promoting current employees to add supervisors at both stations during every shift. The Board of Commissioners approved spending $16,732 in additional salaries on Monday for the new lieutenant positions.
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