City council members are struggling with ideas to make up for a $5 million budget shortfall this year while maintaining their commitment not to raise taxes. Property taxes in Greensboro have been level for three years in a row, leaving the current council with tough choices in an effort to maintain infrastructure requirements while expanding much needed programs and services for the community and economic development.

“We’re trying to not cut crucial services,” said Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson. “We’ve pretty much been successful at that, but it’s been a tough year.”

“The main priorities were to continue maintaining and improving our infrastructure,” said Councilman Zack Matheny.

Johnson said that City Council has been firmly against tax rate increase above the current 63 cents per $100. North Carolina requires that all municipalities adopt a budget by July 1, the starting date of the new fiscal year. The goal of the budget is to balance estimated revenues with outstanding fund balances and appropriations.

The budget is developed in agreement with Management, Accountability, Performance (MAP) workplans:

City Council determines the strategic priorities for the upcoming year then the City Manager’s office makes recommendations and provides guidance.

City departments submitted funding requests for the year to the Budget and Evaluation Department by February. The Budget and Evaluation Department reviewed these request while preparing to recommend a budget.

In April, the Budget and Evaluation department presented a preliminary recommended budget to the City Manager’s Office. The City Manager then reviewed and revised the budget before submitting the recommended budget to City Council on May 20 th .

During the next phase of the budget process, public work sessions are then held in May and June for Councilmembers to deliberate the budget before presenting it at a public hearing.

Public hearings on the budget are required before it can be adopted The adopted budget for the current fiscal year accounts for $459 million in total expenditures. Personnel costs account for the largest part of the current budget at $204 million.

About 53% of the current budget has been appropriated for the cost of maintaining and improving infrastructures. The Water Resources Fund, Field Operations, the War Memorial Coliseum Complex Fund and Greensboro Transit Authority top the list of the most expensive items included under infrastructure costs. Infrastructure demands are expected to dominate a large portion of the budget once again this year.

Public Safety costs account for 27% of the budget with personnel costs for the Police and Fire Departments taking up most of the funds.

The net revenue for the upcoming fiscal year is estimated to be around $475,000,000 with around $175,000,00 coming from user fees, charges and licenses. An estimated $165,000,000 will come from property tax.

According to the North Carolina Department of Revenue, in 2012 the property tax rate for Guilford County was 0.78. Nearby Counties of Alamance and Forsyth had rates of 0.52 and 0.64 respectively.

Planning Greensboro’s budget can be a difficult balancing act of trying to limit tax and fee increases without being forced to cut services.

Fee increases are likely. Steven Drew, the Executive Director of the Water Resources Department, informed City Council during a work session earlier this month that water rates would need to be increased in order to repair aging infrastructure. Drew reviewed the factors that could increase monthly water bills by $1.48 a month for inside customers and $6.70 for outside customers Johnson said, “We’re having to replace so many of our pipes because they’re old.”

Even with the proposed rate increases Greensboro would still have considerably low water rates compared to other cities in the state.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan explained that a rise in water fees would not directly affect the budget. “The water is separate from a budget as an enterprise fund,” said Mayor Vaughan.

City Council has stressed that jobs and economic development are also top priorities. The Economic Development Fund is expected to cost $1,327,000 during the next fiscal year.

Mayor Vaughan is also focusing on the city’s homeless population. “The priority that I had introduced and discussed with the City Manager was to make sure that our homeless providers received funding at a higher level,” said Mayor Vaughan.

Meanwhile, percentage cuts have been proposed for almost all of the city’s departments.

Matheny believes City Council could be more rigorous when reviewing budget items. “I’m not sure that we’re really turning over every stone,” said Matheny. “I’m not quite sure we’re where we need to be in terms of efficiency.”

Community budget meetings were held in all five districts this year with councilmembers presenting information about some of the factors affecting the budget this year.

Johnson is also the chair of a Participatory Budget subcommittee that was created this year to discuss the possibility of letting residents of each district vote on how to use funds. Johnson hopes that if participatory budgeting were to be adopted it would encourage community participation in the adoption process of future budgets.

The City Manager presented the recommended budget to City Council on Tuesday, May 20 th . Councilmembers are expected to review the budget during work sessions on May 27 th and June 12 th . A Public Hearing will be held on June 3 rd before the scheduled adoption of the budget on June 17 th . !