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Proposed Brevard Budget Calls for Higher Property Taxes, More Money for Housing
The budget, presented at Monday's City Council meeting, would also allow pay raises for city employees but reduce commitment to downtown upgrades and the multi-use Estatoe Trail.
BREVARD — The City of Brevard is on course to raise its property tax rate by three cents to bump up lagging staff salaries and provide more support for affordable and workforce housing.
But the recommended budget — presented by City Manager Wilson Hooper at Monday night’s City Council meeting — also includes cutbacks to funding for other long-time goals: extending the city’s multi-use Estatoe Trail and upgrading its downtown business district.
A previously approved 4-percent increase in utility fees, meanwhile, will allow the city to start engineering work on the long, expensive project of revamping its aging and inadequate wastewater treatment plant.
Hooper’s presentation prompted brief comments from Council members and none from residents, though both groups will have a chance to talk more about the document at a public hearing scheduled for May 15.
The final approval of the budget is set for June 5, a little more than three weeks before the start of the 2023-24 fiscal year.
The total amount of the recommended budget, $24.9 million, actually decreased by about 4 percent because of the loss of $2.5-million in federal Covid-19 relief funds the city has received this fiscal year, Hooper said.
“That’s not a great comparison to make because last year’s budget contained a couple of million dollars in one-time ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money,” he said.
The document calls for the city’s property tax rate to climb to 48 cents per $100 of assessed real property from the 45 cents currently levied, he said.
That higher amount would place the rate slightly higher than in some nearby municipalities, including Waynesville and Sylva, but lower than others such as Hendersonville and Canton.
Hooper displayed a chart showing the financial impact of the recommended budget on owners of homes assessed across a range of values. The combination of higher utility fees and property taxes would result in the owner of a house valued at about $99,000 and consuming 800 gallons of water per month paying $42.65 more than this fiscal year.
The owner of a house appraised at $311,000 and using 2,700 gallons would pay a total of $2,701 in property taxes and utility fees — $123 dollars more than the current payment. Finally, Hooper displayed a table for a property appraised at about $900,000 with still higher utility demands.
“A house akin to something you’d see in Straus Park will have an additional yearly liability of a modest $307.41,” he said.
The Council’s priorities were established at a strategic retreat in early March and in the updated, recently adopted Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
Both listed housing as a top priority, and the budget calls for two cents of property taxes, about $264,000, to be earmarked for the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
This fund can be used to both maintain current affordable housing by, for example, helping to pay for repairs and/or rent, according to the city’s recommended budget; it can also “subsidize housing developments that create new affordable and workforce housing units.”
The other big expenditure will be for pay raises, including a 5-percent cost-of-living increase and adjustments aimed at complying with the recommendations of a recent study that found Brevard’s salaries had fallen behind those paid by several nearby cities and counties. In total, the recommended budget devotes about $650,000 to increasing the pay of both new hires and existing employees.
The starting salary for a police officer, for example, would climb from $42,123 to $45,777, while the pay of an officer in the middle of the range would increase from $52,654 to $57,221, a city consultant said at the meeting.
The total cost of the work at the sewage treatment plant has been roughly estimated at $65 million and is called a “decade-long project” in the budget. The recommended document would not allow the city to start construction, funding for which is expected to come mostly from outside sources, but does set aside $150,000 for engineering work.
The city previously devoted two cents of property tax revenue to a fund that pays for improvements envisioned in its Downtown Master Plan. This fund was exhausted to help pay for the ongoing $1.74 million downtown streetscape improvements to two downtown blocks — a small portion of the area covered by the plan, which was adopted in 2021.
Downtown business owners said in March, when the current work was starting, that even the current annual contribution was not enough to ensure the completion of the plan. This amount would be cut in half with the adoption of the recommended budget, as would the amount committed to the city’s Multi-Use Path Fund.
Council member Aaron Baker has been a vocal advocate of completing the path as quickly as possible and has also backed downtown improvements.
“It doesn’t really sit well with me that we’re reducing contributions to those funds,” he said.
“But I also recognize that housing is a huge need, and I am personally willing to concede that it is such a great need that we’re going to have to shift some money around and I think the budget shows this.”