Some Winston-Salem City Council members are appealing for city administrators to find a way to trim back a proposed 2021-22 budget that could have the average homeowner paying 12% more in city taxes.
But on Thursday, other council members and people in the community were appealing for more spending for matters ranging from the arts to crime prevention.
City Manager Lee Garrity is proposing a budget that would drop the tax rate by 1.5 cents, yet still result in higher tax bills for most residents because of new property assessments brought on by the 2020 revaluation.
“We have a hard time not spending money,” Finance Committee Chairman Robert Clark told fellow council members during a budget discussion Thursday evening. “A 12% increase people will notice.”
Clark said the city should consider eliminating bus routes that have low ridership and increasing the fares on the others, and said the city is spending $2 million on recycling when the items picked up bring in less than $100,000. Some pools could be converted to splash parks, he said.
Council Member D.D. Adams, the mayor pro tem, said many of Clark’s cuts might hurt some of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, and added that some help for the city’s spending needs may come from an untapped reservoir of federal stimulus dollars that still await a spending decision.
Other council members supported or proposed various initiatives without saying how they would affect the city’s bottom line:
Council Member John Larson spoke in favor of youth programs as a way of tackling crime, saying that “if we don’t catch them early on, we are not going to solve this problem long term.”
Council Member Barbara Burke said she wants to spend $250,000 on a crime prevention program along with $50,000 for a gun-buyback effort.
Burke, Larson and Council Member Annette Scippio said the city’s recreation programs and centers are not up to snuff in the neighborhoods where crime is a problem. Scippio said the city also needs to provide more money for housing rehabilitation, and voiced support for a joint city-county partnership to reduce gun violence.
Meanwhile, Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said city administrators should look for a way to drop the proposed rate a penny:
“What would the budget look like if we took $2 million out, a penny on the tax rate?” he asked. “I’d like to see where that pain would come from.”
MacIntosh said that once the city does pass a budget, it should appoint an “efficiency commission” to “look at every penny and how we spend it.”
The current tax rate is 63.74 cents for every $100 of taxable property. The owner of a $150,000 home pays $956.10 in city taxes.
Under the proposed tax rate of 62.24 cents, that same owner would pay $933.60, but only if the homeowner’s property did not increase in value through the recently-completed revaluation process.
In fact, properties in the city increased in value by around 14.8% because of revaluation. Applying that increase to the $150,000 example, the new value would be $172,200 and the new tax bill would be $1,071.78, an increase of 12%.
The proposed city budget raises the city minimum wage to $15 per hour, and gives employees an average pay increase of 2.5% for good job performance. Police officers and firefighters get a 2% increase as a way of retaining staff.
The budget would establish a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office with four positions and a startup cost of $500,000. The goal of the office would be to work on “issues of social justice, equity and bias” within city operations.
The budget also includes $4 million in capital spending, including the purchase of 75 new police vehicles and a ladder truck and two fire engines for the fire department.
The next public step in the city’s budget preparation cycle is a Finance Committee workshop at 4 p.m. next Thursday.
Meanwhile, city council members on Thursday also heard from some two dozen people with comments on the city budget. Most speakers were representatives of community groups that are either getting money in the proposed budget, or which hope to be among those added to the city’s spending on community agencies.
Advocates of reduced police spending also spoke during the period, repeating calls for a shift in police spending to other areas they said would do more good.
Among those were investment in a community land trust, investment in worker-owned cooperatives and city investment and participation in mental health responses to crime as a policing alternative.