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(Photo by Jaymie Baxley/The Pilot)

Southern Pines residents can expect little change on their tax bill for the upcoming year. The Southern Pines Town Council adopted its 2021-22 budget Tuesday, holding the property tax rate at 40 cents per $100 valuation for the fifth consecutive year.

The $22.5 million general fund budget represents an increase of approximately $1.75 million over the current budget. The budget, which begins on July 1, not only maintains current service levels, it also includes resources to restore programs such as recreation, which had been scaled back over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we began our 2021 fiscal year last July, we were facing a number of unknowns with the spread of COVID-19, so we prepared a budget that relied on collective educated assumptions and conservative approaches,” Parsons said. “I’m pleased to report that, from a financial standpoint, the past twelve months have proven far more positive than we anticipated. Sales tax revenues have been unexpectedly strong, exceeding collections from previous years in almost every month.

“This has allowed us to adjust our assumptions upward for the coming year, greatly helping our financial position since sales tax revenues make up over one-fourth of our operating budget,” he added.

While the property tax rate will remain flat, the town’s overall property tax revenues are projected to increase 2.5 percent, based on county estimates, due to residential and commercial growth in the area. Revenues collected from property taxes will total approximately $11.1 million for FY 2022.

“While Southern Pines is not experiencing the explosion in growth and property values that communities in the Triangle region are, we are faring far better than most communities in what many consider ‘rural’ North Carolina,” said Southern Pines Director of Finance, Tess Brubaker-Speis, noting that property taxes represent nearly 60 percent of total revenues. “Through even small amounts of growth, we can keep our property tax rates low and still receive the revenues we need to provide the services our community expects.”

The town has also faced increased expenses for waste hauling and recycling services. In order to partially offset an anticipated 4 percent service increase, regular monthly waste handling fees will increase by $1. In addition, water and sewer customers will see a 4 percent increase for both base rates and consumption rates to ensure the town’s aging utility infrastructure and future growth needs are appropriately addressed. All fee increases will be effective July 1.

The FY 2022 budget includes funding for two additional full-time employees: a community development/long range planner and an engineering technician, bringing the town’s total workforce to 187.5 permanent employees, in addition to seasonal employees and volunteers.

Other across-the-board personnel increases include a two percent pay scale adjustment for employees, a three percent increase to premiums for major medical insurance, and state-mandated increases to employer-provided pension contributions.

The town’s fiscal policy is to maintain a minimum undesignated balance in the general fund equal to 25 percent of operating expenditures for a “rainy day fund.” In addition, an estimated $475,000 will be available to fund additional projects or opportunities throughout the year subject to Town Council approval.

“I’m pleased that we are in a position to adopt a budget coming out of the pandemic that preserves three months of expenditures for emergencies in addition to providing $475,000 for forthcoming projects,” said Speis. “The amount maintained in fund balance is considered a key indicator of a local government’s financial condition.”

Capital projects funded by the FY 2022 budget include body cameras for police officers ($210,000 over the next five years for equipment and storage). The budget also allocates approximately $470,000 for other public safety equipment needs, including a brush truck/utility vehicle and quick response vehicle for the fire department and three vehicles and a dispatch console for the police department. Southern Pines will invest nearly $700,000 into improving and maintaining sidewalks and roadways, including $275,000 for the annual paving projects, $210,000 for equipment to mow the rights-of-way, and a transfer of $200,000 to fund upcoming sidewalk projects.

Replacement playground equipment at Elizabeth Rounds Park will run $100,000 and the town will also allocate $75,000 to begin the first phases of rehabilitating the dam in Reservoir Park. The budget also includes funds to undertake master planning efforts for the recently acquired Whitehall tract in addition to two debt service payments on the loan associated with the property, which will be paid in full over the next three years.

Other anticipated infrastructure projects include the installation of a 12-inch water line along East Morganton Road from Ridge Street to Valley Road (about $500,000), a new 16-inch water line serving northern portions of Southern Pines ($2 million), and nearly $650,000 will be transferred to capital funds toward ongoing rehabilitation and replacement of the town’s water and sanitary sewer infrastructure.

“Both the Council and Town staff deserve significant recognition for all of their efforts over the past twelve months. I am humbled by all they have been able to accomplish during this difficult year. I look forward to carrying out the directives Council has authorized through the FY 2022 Budget as we continue to enhance what already makes Southern Pines an exceptional place to reside and do business,” said Parsons.

In other action on Tuesday, the Southern Pines Town Council:

Met for the first time in-person at the Douglass Community Center. During the pandemic, the facility underwent a facelift with new flooring, new paint and installation of a new audio/visual system.

Approved a 144-unit expansion of the Legends at Morganton Park apartment complex, located near the new Southern Pines Elementary School campus.

Approved a preliminary development for the American Whiskey Co. Applicants Brad and Jessica Halling unveiled conceptual plans earlier this year for a distillery plant, rickhouse storage, restaurant and bar, and outdoor stage on a 15-acre tract in the town’s industrial section near Yadkin Road. A recent Brownfields-related soil assessment resulted in a favorable outcome, Halling said. No remediation is required, Halling said.

Approved a series of text amendments to bring the town’s Unified Development Ordinance in compliance with updated state laws.

Approved an architectural compliance permit for the new Southern Pines Crossfit facility to be built on SW Broad Street, near the 195 American Fusion Restaurant and Nature’s Own store.

Approved a resolution to award outgoing Police Lt. Rodney Allred with his badge and service weapon upon his retirement.

Entered an agreement with Warrior Woods Lake owners to provide $16,100 toward remediation efforts following a discharge from the town’s service lift station. Plans call for populating the lake with the sterile grass carp, species known to feast on algae and other debris.

Heard from West Southern Pines resident Donald Rich who is concerned about incremental increases for water, sewer and waste disposal services. “Poor people matter. As we go up on these things, the poor people get left further and further behind.”

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