The city of Morganton approved a budget that saw almost no increases across city services.
Council members unanimously approved the budget after holding a public hearing, though no residents came to speak at the meeting.
The new budget saw almost all fees for city services stay the same, including rates for water, sewer, solid waste and CoMPAS internet and phone rates. Property taxes will hold at 57 cents per $100 of property value, with the downtown special tax rate staying at 14 cents per $100 value.
Electric rates will be cut, with average households expected to save $27 per year from the cut. CoMPAS TV customers will see an additional $5 per month surcharge added to their bills under the new budget to cover the cost of broadcast channels.
City employees will receive a 1% cost-of-living adjustment starting July 3, with a 3% merit raise for eligible full-time employees starting Feb. 26.
The total budget came in at $79,281,813, about 5.5% more than the current year’s budget. That’s mostly because of projects in the water and wastewater funds, according to City Manager Sally Sandy.
The budget will go into effect July 1.
Council members set up a fund specifically for COVID-19 funds the city has received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
So far, Morganton has received about $2.4 million from the latest round of federal COVID-19 funding, Sandy said. City Attorney Louis Vinay said the city expects to receive another $2.4 million by the end of the year.
But guidance on how to spend the dollars still isn’t clear.
Sandy said city staff have been to three webinars with state officials from the state treasurer’s office, the UNC School of Government and others associated with this to try to learn more about how the dollars can be spent, but so far they are being told to be cautious with the dollars until the official rules for spending them has been handed down.
She said one thing that local governments do know is that they have to keep the funds in a special revenue fund, which prompted the council to open the new fund.
As far as how she expects the city to use the funding, Sandy said residents can expect to see some of those dollars used for infrastructure like sewer capacity issues, expanding the city’s broadband system and potentially resurfacing some streets.
Council members voted to approve a memorandum of agreement concerning the settlement of a lawsuit the county, state and many other entities have entered because of the opioid epidemic.
Burke County is one of many entities who entered into a lawsuit against distributors and manufacturers of opioids.
The county asked the city to sign a memorandum of agreement that was prepared by the state’s attorney general to signal its approval of how funds would be distributed if or when the suit is settled.
Morganton is not a party in the lawsuit, and Vinay said the city does not stand to directly receive any money from the settlement. However, the agreement had a provision asking counties to get larger cities in their area to sign off on the agreement.
If the suit is settled, Vinay said the county would receive a “very large” sum of money which it plans to use to establish a long-term, residential drug treatment facility that would be housed in the old Burke-Catawba Detention Confinement Facility.
He said the city supports the county receiving and using the funds for such a purpose, but since the building would be in city limits and would receive city services, city staff asked the county to agree that a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement should be made. He said that’s because the property would receive city services like fire and police response but wouldn’t be responsible for paying property taxes since it is government-owned.
Vinay also said arrangements like that are common with other government-owned properties around the city that receive services but aren’t required to pay property taxes, like J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, Broughton Hospital and the North Carolina School for the Deaf.
The county rejected that idea, Vinay said. Regardless, council members unanimously approved the agreement.
Councilman Butch McSwain said he felt that there was plenty of time to work out the terms of a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, and that the city should wait and see how the county’s dream for a drug treatment facility pans out.
Other items approved by the council included:
A contract with Mountain Crest LLC in an amount not to exceed $120,912 for construction of an access road for electric service at Burke Business Park.
A contract with John Newton Plumbing worth $13,920 to install pressure reducing valves for the water supply in the area of the Burke Business Park.
A $55,000 amendment to the city’s contract with Wilkie Construction for renovations at the historic courthouse square to finish landscaping and establish a final contingency. The city has received private funding to assist with this project.
A contract with Perfection First Services Inc. worth $6,218 per month for cleaning of city hall, public safety headquarters, the city’s warehouse, garage and the Community House.
The council will not have a meeting in July. It will meet again in person Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Morganton City Hall.