Town braces for budget shortfall

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The budget uncertainty caused by potential tax changes at the county level has gotten so muddled for Broadway officials that Town Manager Bob Stevens suggested possibly cutting his own job Monday night.

“You can go back to the mayor-council form of government and lay off the town manager,” he said during the monthly Board of Town Commissioners meeting. “But you have to look at how that affects the town. I don’t want to lose my job any more than a policeman or someone in public works … but I think you have to look at every single option.”

However, Commissioner Woody Beale immediately shot down that offer, and the board did not talk about such a scenario afterward.

“After 40 years of service, I don’t think we can do that, what you just said,” Beale said.

That leaves the town’s police and public works employees up for cuts unless the board votes to drastically increase taxes, an idea that was repeatedly rejected Monday. Stevens said in the next year, he’s anticipating a drop of about $40,000 in revenue due to county-wide property tax revaluations, plus more than $100,000 in lost sales tax revenue if the county decides to change how that money is distributed. The Lee County County Commissioners must decide by April whether to keep the status quo or make changes, which have been pushed by the board’s Republican majority, that would redistribute money that currently goes to Sanford and Broadway and send it instead to the county’s coffers.

Broadway officials directed Stevens to draw up sample budgets anticipating the redistribution, which would lead to the town having $104,740 less next year — nearly 13 percent of its most current general funds budget. Stevens said Monday that the only choices in that scenario would be layoffs, taxes or both.

Cutting a police officer and maintenance employee would save about $92,000 in salary and benefits. Stevens also included a list of other services that could be cut — vehicle maintenance, recycling, yard debris pickup, maintenance of the Broadway Veterans Memorial and involvement in the Lee County Economic Development Corporation — which would lead to savings of $113,764.

But considering that the town is facing a possible loss of almost $150,000 next year, several board members said taxes might have to be considered.

“I don’t want to raise any taxes; let me say that off the bat because I’m getting ready to contradict myself,” Commissioner Lynn Green said just before noting that it might be unfair to put the entire burden of the changes on the backs of two employees instead of asking everyone to shoulder some of it.

“We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, and we didn’t put ourselves there,” she said, expressing frustration at the idea of raising taxes on some of the town’s 1,200 residents because of a decision that’s out of the town’s hands.

Commissioner Jim Davis responded that he’d quit on the spot if the board decided to make up all of the losses through taxes, and Green quickly clarified that she’d like to see a mixture of cuts and taxes. Mayor Don Andrews also said a mix could be the best path to take, expressing the sentiment, common throughout the meeting, that the cuts are likely to occur.

“I’m not very optimistic,” Beale said after speaking about the behavior of county officials at a recent joint meeting. “I’ll put it that way.”

He specifically brought up County Commissioner Jim Womack’s statements that there would be enough fat to cut out that the 13 percent loss wouldn’t be too painful. Beale asked Stevens if he had sent a copy of the town’s budget to Lee County Manager John Crumpton for review, which Stevens said he did. But he isn’t holding his breath.

“I don’t think we’re going to get a response from them,” Stevens said. “... I think they know there isn’t any fat.”

The board also:

* Voted to approve the town’s 2013-14 fiscal year auditing contract with Martin Starnes & Associates.

* Voted to re-join the Cape Fear River Basin Association for the purpose of monitoring water quality.

* Spoke about solid waste bids, noting that although Sanford will soon choose between Waste Industries and Waste Management, Broadway doesn’t necessarily have to choose the same company. Both Michael Holder, a local employee of Waste Management, which currently provides trash and recycling services but which submitted a higher bid than Waste Industries, and Chip Dodd, Waste Management’s public sector marketing director, spoke in favor of that company at the meeting.

* Assured attendees that Walmart does still plan to come to town, although no construction has started on the property it was approved for months ago.