Morehead City council hears budget complaints

TEA PARTY PATRIOTS CALL OUT COSTS (Mark Hibbs — Wednesday, 06/12/2013)

Tea party spokesman Eric Broyles of Morehead City spoke Tuesday in opposition to the city manager’s recommended 2013-14 budget, which includes a 4-cent tax increase.

The 4-cent tax increase included in the proposed 2013-14 budget had city officials seeing red Tuesday.

A red-shirted Crystal Coast Tea Party spokesman and his similarly attired cadre blasted the proposed spending plan during a public hearing at the Municipal Building at 202 S. Eighth St. and demanded a line-by-line review of expenses in the city manager’s recommendation.

That proposal increases property taxes from 28.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 32.5 cents if approved by the council.  The new budget year starts July 1st.

“It is time for the city council to go back to the budget drawing board and bring forth a realistic budget that does not increase taxes”, said Broyles, who spoke on behalf of the tea party group and read aloud his letter to the editor published in the News-Times on Sunday.

Mr. Broyles said the budget was padded with increased expenses.  He said the city should not hire any new employees until it can properly take care of its existing staff.

A plan to offer pay raises for city workers and the addition of several new positions were cited in the proposed budget as the reasons for the proposed tax increase.  Of the proposed 4-cent tax increase, 2.5 cents would go to increase employees salaries and the other 1.5 cents would pay for new positions.

Each penny of the property tax generates about $185,000-190,000 in tax revenue.

The council did not plan to vote on the budget Tuesday during its regular meeting.  The board had announced it will wait until a special meeting set for 1pm Friday at the same location before considering adoption of the spending plan.  But council members stuck to the originally planned date for the public hearing held Tuesday.

The decision to vote on Friday was based on a planned meeting that day with a consultant who performed a study of the city’s employee compensation and recommended the raises to bring them in line with the labor market in the area, improve morale and curb turnover.

The tea party group’s gripe, as articulated by Mr. Broyles, was less about employee wages and more the departmental increases included in the city manager’s recommended spending plan, including line-item expenditures such as landscaping, office supplies, and contracted services he called inflated spending out of control.

City manager Dave Whitlow said the budget proposal includes about $800,000 less in general fund expenditures, compared to the current budget.  Much of the reduction is in capital expenditures, contributions to various organizations, operating costs, travel and training expenses and “a whole host of things”, he said.

Mr. Whitlow said his recommended spending levels in the proposed budget were more than $1 million lower than the total requested by city department heads, about $23.37 million.

The manager’s recommended $21.97 million budget includes $10.63 million in general fund expenditures; $2.99 million in expenses for fire and EMS service; $6.39 million in water and sewer operating expenses; $926,300 in solid waste expense; $860,000 in water and sewer capital projects; and a water and sewer capital reserve of $176,000.

Mr. Broyles said he found numerous expense items in various departments in the budget that soared in comparison with the budget for the previous year and actual spending.

Mr. Broyles and his group, prior to the meeting, placed sheets of red paper in every seat of the council chambers with the words “Taxed Enough Already” printed in large, black letters.  The group had also placed on every seat a sheet of white paper printed on both sides with tables of expense categories for each city department.

The tables listed actual current-year expenses, the manager’s recommended 2013-14 expenditures and the percentage increase for each line item, as calculated by Mr. Broyles.

Page numbers in the budget document were also cited for each item in the tables.

Increases were as high as 45,354.55 percent, as in the case of ‘Safety Program Supplies’ in the Fire and EMS department table.  The item, included on Page 95 of the budget, was budgeted in the current year at $2,000.  According to the budget document, actual expenses totaled $11.24.  The department’s request for 2013-14 for the same line item was $5,100.  The manager’s recommended expense was $5,000.

Other examples included a nearly 5,000 percent increase in landscaping expense in the transportation department, a 3,500 percent increase in cemetery, buildings and grounds landscaping expense and a 2,400 percent increase from $20 to $500  for maintenance and equipment at the Webb Library.

Mr. Broyles said he had expressed his concerns to two council members he considered fiscally conservative.

That remark prompted a stern response from Councilman Demus Thompson.  “You didn’t contact me”, Mr. Thompson said during the council remarks portion of the meeting.  “I’ve always prided myself that this body is not affiliated with any party period.”  Mr. Thompson pointed out that municipal bodies are nonpartisan, unlike county government, which he referred to as a mess and a half.  “I’m thankful I don’t have to stand up and say I’m a Democrat or I am Republican”, Mr. Thompson said, adding that “Mr. Broyles should reach out to the entire council the next time he has a concern.  We all have one vote.”

Contact Mark Hibbs at 252-726-7081, ext. 229; email; or follow on Twitter @markhibbs.