Calling it a budget to move the Town of Smithfield forward, the Town Council voted 7-to-0 to approve Manager Mike Scott’s $15.02 million budget Tuesday night.
The 2019-2020 fiscal year budget keeps the property tax rate of 57 cents per $100 valuation unchanged. Following the property revaluation, a revenue neutral rate would have been 52.3 cents. That represents an 8.9 percent increase in property tax bills in the upcoming fiscal year.
“You can say it has a higher tax rate but we’re getting a dang good deal for our money,” Mayor Pro Tem Travis Scott said following a public hearing on the budget Tuesday night.
Councilman Emery Ashley said he doesn’t like the budget not being revenue neutral but said it addresses real needs and services in a most-economical manner. Ashley called Smithfield a “high service community” with residents wanting a top notch police department, fire department, street repairs, and trash picked up when it’s placed beside the curb. All those come with costs.
Councilman David Stevens agreed saying he didn’t want to increase taxes “..but now we have an opportunity to move Smithfield forward.”
The budget includes funding for 7 new police cars, 13 new police portable radios, a police K-9, 19 air packs for the fire department, $260,000 for street resurfacing and a $125,000 splash pad at Smith Collins Park. $13,500 in improvements and maintenance is included at the Smithfield Recreation & Aquatics Center.
The budget includes $1 million to repair and resurface North and South Equity Drive. Scott said the street is in similar condition to Venture Drive before that was repaired in 2017.
$1 million is included for an additional Clear Well at the Water Plant; $800,000 for phase two of the extension of a 16 inch water line along Durwood Stephenson Highway to West Smithfield; $950,000 to design and build the North Circuit, a new electrical circuit to service future growth along the new Booker Dairy Road Extension; $120,000 to elevate a main power transformer on Hospital Road that flood during Hurricane Matthew; and $35,000 for a new pickup for the Public Works Department.
The budget keeps the electric rates unchanged for now. Scott says there is the possibility of a 3% wholesale power rate increase in April 2020 from ElectriCities that could impact rates next year.
Residential water rates will remain unchanged. The Bulk Water Rate, charged to large water customers like the County of Johnston, will increase by 10 percent on July 1st. Sewer rates will increase 10% to offset a 10% sewer rate increase from Johnston County.
Town of Smithfield employees will see a 2.5% salary increase on Jan. 1, 2020.
The largest part of the budget, 28%, goes towards the operation of the Police Department. The Fire Department accounts for 10% of the total budget, followed by the Street Department at 10%. The operation of the SRAC is equal to 7% of the total budget. Recreation is 7% and debt service is 6% of the total 2019-20 budget.
Leslie Lazarus, a member of the Smithfield Appearance Commission, spoke during the Public Comments section of the budget discussions. Lazarus expressed concern about the high costs of operating the SRAC and the debt payments. Businessman Hank Daniels thanked the Council for approving $1 million to repave Equity Drive in the next fiscal year.
The 57 cents property tax rate in Smithfield hasn’t changed in 16 years.