City of Winston-Salem $530 Million Budget Proposed for 2018-2019
The City of Winston-Salem property-tax rate would remain unchanged, city services to residents would remain at current levels and the city would raise its minimum pay to $12.50 an hour under the $530 million budget for 2018-19 that City Manager Lee Garrity has recommended to Mayor Allen Joines and the City Council.
The proposed budget allocates $363 million for operations, $42 million for debt service and $125 million for capital improvements. The property tax rate would remain unchanged at 59.74 cents for every $100 of value.
The City Council’s Finance Committee will begin reviewing the budget May 31 and will hold a public hearing June 7. The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the budget on June 18. By state law, the council must adopt a budget for 2018-2019 by June 30. The budget would take effect July 1.
The proposed budget is $48.8 million more than the current budget. Capital improvements supported by user fees, such as water, sewer and stormwater projects, account for 73 percent of this increase. Spending in the general fund, which accounts for most tax-supported services, would only increase by $2.6 million, or 1.3 percent.
In his budget message, Garrity noted that the increase in general-fund spending primarily is related to fulfilling the City Council’s commitment to completing a multi-year process of improving employee compensation. “Full implementation of the market study will ensure that the city of Winston-Salem can attract, retain and reward skilled employees in order to provide reliable, high-quality services to the community,” Garrity said.
Last year, about half of all city employees received raises to bring them up to the market rate for their positions; the proposed budget would bring the other half up to market rate or provide a raise of at least 2 percent. These pay raises would take effect April 1, 2019. In addition, any employee who makes less than the proposed new minimum wage of $12.50 an hour would be raised to that amount. The current city minimum wage is $11.25 an hour.
In addition to any market rate increase, police officers and firefighters would receive a 2 percent pay increase effective Jan. 1, 2019, as part of a multi-year effort the City Council authorized in 2016 to improve public safety retention. All city employees, regardless of their position, would be eligible for merit raises ranging from 1.5 to 3 percent, based on performance.
Garrity recommends eliminating 15 Sanitation positions (eight of which are vacant), placing a hiring freezing on seven other vacant positions and temporarily defunding 10 vacant community-oriented policing positions that were supported by a grant. Additional positions could fall under the hiring freeze as they come open; however, vacancies in critical positions would be exempt.
The eight vacant Sanitation positions are no longer needed as the city continues to transition to automated side-loading garbage trucks. The other seven Sanitation positions relate to the city’s commercial bulk container garbage service, which would be discontinued. The employees in these positions would be reassigned to other vacant positions. Existing commercial bulk container contracts would be honored.
The budget also includes $7.3 million for the Winston-Salem Transit Authority to mitigate the effects of the closure of Business 40, scheduled to take place this fall. This amount, all of which will be reimbursed out of the state Business 40 budget, will pay for augmented service along some bus routes, enhanced service for park and ride lots, and other transit services that will be in place during the closure.
Overall, the budget supports the strategic focus areas adopted by the mayor and City Council. The investments in water and sewer projects support the goal of a healthy environment, pay raises for city employees and public safety support the goals of service excellence and a safe community, and the bus service enhancements support the goal of providing quality transportation.
The proposed budget for capital improvements includes $117.3 million for water, sewer, stormwater and landfill projects. The capital budget does not include the bond projects that voters approved in November 2014, which were handled in a separate appropriation.
User fees would remain the same except for Utilities Division fees: Sewer rates would increase 5 percent, water rates would increase 3.5 percent and the monthly service charge for residential water and sewer service would increase $1.41. Disposal rates at the yard waste facilities and the Old Salisbury Road landfill would increase $1 per ton.
The proposed budget includes $602,020 for downtown improvements, financed by the 9-cent levy recommended by the Downtown Winston-Salem Business Improvement District Advisory Committee. The money would be spent in six areas: improving cleanliness, increasing safety, improving marketing, accelerating development, enhancing downtown appearance and administration.
How to participate in the budget process
· Copies of the proposed budget will be available for review at public libraries within the city, city recreation centers and City Hall, 101 N. Main St. Suite 30. The proposed budget will also be posted online at www.CityofWS.org.
· The City Council’s Finance Committee will hold workshops on the budget at 4:30 p.m. May 31, June 5 and 11 in the Council Committee Room (Room 239) on the second floor of City Hall. A workshop will be held at 2 p.m. June 12, if needed. These workshops are open to the public but are for the purpose of allowing council members to study the proposed budget. Citizens may watch these workshops live on WSTV on Spectrum cable channel 13 and AT&T U-verse channel 99 in Forsyth County. WSTV can also be viewed live online at CityofWS.org.
· The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget at 4 p.m. June 7 in the Council Chamber (Room 230) on the second floor of City Hall. This hearing will be televised live by WSTV.
· The Public Safety Committee will review the budgets for the Police, Fire and Emergency Management departments at 6 p.m. June 11 in the Council Committee Room. This meeting will be televised live by WSTV.
· The mayor and City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 18 in the Council Chamber before voting on the budget. This hearing will be televised live by WSTV.
Citizens can also phone in comments about the budget on the city’s Citizen Feedback line, 336-734-1400, or submit comments through a form on the city website.