It took a lot of working through differences, but the Emporia City Council adopted the FY 2019-20 General and Utility fund budgets, totaling nearly $30 million Tuesday. Woody Harris was the lone council member voting against the budget proposal, which passed 5-1. Council member Carol Mercer was not present.
The big changes in the FY 19-20 budget are a 3 percent increase in water and sewer rates and a 5 cent increase per $100 in value property taxes. The local share of funding for Greensville County Public Schools was also one of several issues Harris had against the budget.
“I Believe we are overfunding local money into schools and the state is not doing its fair share,” Harris said. “There is no way the citizens of Emporia can make all that up. An increase in taxes, while never a good thing, are certainly not intended or best utilized to make up shortfalls at the state level.”
Harris said he understands salary compression in the school system is a concern, but it is also a concern for City employees and Council is more directly responsible for City employees. Harris said discussions to implement a plan addressing salary compression for City employees has fallen on deaf ears for too long, though he gave a pass to new Council members Clifton Threat and Yolanda Hines, as well as City Manager William Johnson, all who are going through their first City budget process.
Mayor Mary Person presented a point of clarification saying she does not believe there is a member of Council that is not concerned about City employees. Though Harris opposed the increase in garbage collection, he did support the increase in water and sewer rates. Harris said the waterline improvements and replacements are necessary.
Johnson said he will begin meeting quarterly with County Administrator Brenda Parson and GCPS Superintendent Kim Evans to discuss issues concerning the schools. The first meeting is scheduled in July.
The 3 percent water and sewer rate increase will jump the average customer’s bill by $1.23 a month. The minimum rate for 2,000 gallons of water will be $20.45 a month beginning July 1. The minimum sewer rate will be $21.74.
Harris said he is also opposed to giving more money to the Greensville Emporia Department of Social Services without a real discussion or explanation of how the money will be spent. He said the building will not be occupied for another six months, yet the City will be paying rent and into the debt service during that time. The increase to fund the DSS debt service is $104,997.
Johnson said the work on creating the budget was not an easy task and it was difficult to recommend a 5 cent increase on real estate. In the end he asked City employees to stand.
“These are the individuals that got the budget done,” he said. “They had, I don’t know, $4 million, $5 million in requests that wasn’t available for funding, so they had to go back and figure out and understand to live with what has been adopted tonight.”
When Johnson finished speaking, the mayor, council and others attending the meeting gave city employees a a loud applause. The FY 19-20 budget runs from July 1 to June 30, 2020.