Following six months of discussion and sometimes heated debate, the Robbins Board of Commissioners on Thursday adopted a fiscal year budget that includes an 11-cent property tax increase for residents.
The approved budget raises the town’s property tax rate to 75 cents for every $100 of valuation. David Lambert, the town manager, said the spike will represent an average annual cost increase of about $80 for property owners.
“It’s a budget no one in this room wants to pass,” he said. “But what this budget does is take into account where we are and what we need.”
Lambert said the increased tax rate will allow the town to address some of the damage caused by Hurricane Florence, and to pay for long-neglected maintenance projects.
“Within the last three or four years, this board has cut taxes,” Lambert said. “But during that same period of time, we had temporary increases of revenue that we’re not sustaining, and we had bills that had not been paid.”
He added: “We’ve eliminated departments, we’ve eliminated positions, we’ve found savings, we’ve made sure fines are being imposed that hadn’t been imposed.”
The budget, Lambert said, represents "a correction that no one wants, but one that we need."
Commissioners Nikki Bradshaw and Kevin Stewart voted to adopt the budget, while commissioners Brandon Phillips and Terri Holt voted against it. The deciding vote was cast by Mayor Lonnie English, who voted in favor of the budget.
Despite having authorized a larger tax increase of 15 cents during a work session in January, the commissioners voted on May 28 to reject the budget passed on Thursday. The board instead voted to adopt a revised budget with a 66-cent tax rate — nine pennies less than the budget originally presented by Lambert. The lower rate was reached after the commissioners decided to give up their annual salaries, a combined annual expense of nearly $16,000, and to eliminate a vacant police officer position, a cut Lambert had advised against.
“In my professional opinion, the reduction of our police force will significantly reduce services for citizens, and the proposal presents significant administrative concerns,” he wrote in a memo shared with the commissioners at the time.
While less than the maximum tax increase authorized by the board, the originally proposed rate of 75 cents was met with strong opposition by commissioners Stewart, Holt and Phillips, who is a police officer in Taylortown.
“We cannot bankrupt the citizens,” Stewart said, citing recent increases to the town’s water and sewer rates. “Not everyone can afford it.”
After the commissioners voted in favor of the revised budget, Lambert submitted his letter of resignation to the board. The decision, he said, was not related to the budget discussion.
Lambert did not want to tender his resignation during the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, he said, because of a clause in his contract requiring him to provide 60 days notice. His resignation is effective Aug. 9, but he has offered to continue working for the town on an “interim basis” if the manager position isn’t filled by then, providing he has not accepted another job.
[Read More: "Robbins Town Manager Tenders Resignation" ]
An emergency meeting was called on May 30 to address the budget approved two evenings earlier. In a surprising reversal, Stewart proposed another vote on the budget he had voted against. The change, he said, was prompted by the cycle of “deferred maintenance” that would be continued by the revised budget.
“Deferred maintenance has got us where we are now,” Stewart said. “The more we keep putting Band-Aids on stuff, the more it is going to cost us.”
Stewart noted that as the largest individual property owner in Robbins, he will be hit especially hard by the tax increase.
Police Chief Resigns
Earlier on Thursday, Robbins Police Chief Robert Tew announced he was stepping down.
Tew joined the Robbins Police Department as an officer in 2004. He was named the agency’s chief after his predecessor Jeffrey Sheffield retired in 2016.
In a resignation letter dated June 7, Tew wrote that he will be “going to work for another law enforcement agency.”
“I would like to thank you for all your support for the Police Department and the town,” he wrote. “I wish the Town of Robbins and the employees and especially the Police Department much success in the future.”