HOPE MILLS — The Hope Mills Board of Commissioners voted Monday night to reject a proposed 4-cent property tax hike and instead take money from the town’s fund balance.
The proposed budget would have increased the tax rate to 50 cents per $100 of property valuation.
Instead, the board voted 4-1 to approve the proposed budget without raising the tax rate. New funding will come from reserves as in previous years. But in a lengthy discussion, board members said they expect to raise taxes in the next budget.
Before the vote, the discussion stretched over more than an hour. A couple of residents who said they represented elderly residents spoke in opposition of a tax increase. They said many residents are on fixed incomes and are struggling financially.
Commissioners Jerry Legge, Bryan Marley, Grilley Mitchell and Joanne Scarola voted to approve the budget without raising taxes. Mayor Pro Tem Kenjuana McCray voted against the plan.
The commissioners who voted against raising taxes said now is not the right time to raise taxes in a town that is struggling to make ends meet. Some said they know people who are already on tight budgets. Commissioner Scarola said she is among them.
Mayor Jackie Warner, who could not vote on the budget, said she thinks it is not the right time to raise taxes.
McCray explained her reasons for wanting to approve the budget recommended by town administrators.
“I don’t take a budget increase lightly. I do understand it could cost me the next election, but I feel in my conscience for me and the town, it’s the right thing to do,” said McCray.
Before the board opened discussion, Town Manager Chancer McLaughlin read a long list of budget cuts that he said were for items that are much needed, including personnel. For the past several years, McLaughlin said, many town employees have been underpaid while doing the work of two or three positions.
McLaughlin read a list of town departments that currently have a staff shortage.
McCray said that as Hope Mills experiences unprecedented growth, the town will need more employees.
According to McLaughlin and Finance Director Drew Holland, the proposed tax increase was part of the plan to get the town in a better financial position.
Hope Mills is expected to experience a shortfall of $1.9 million a year in the next couple of years when it begins to pay back a loan for the new public safety building and a new tax revenue agreement with the county takes effect.
“You have heard our town manager and our finance director talk about all the ways we have cut services for our citizens. In that plan, you don’t hear a plan to hire staff. We don’t have a plan for this growth. In 10 years, inflation is going up, and I don’t think we are planning properly for the town,” McCray said.
“The shortfall we are going to experience in two years from the agreement we just agreed with the county commissioners has been in conversation for 20 years,” she said. “We did not plan. We pushed it off. In two years, we are going to have to start paying back that loan on the public safety building.
“We have to plan right now,” McCray told the board. “We are pinching pennies; we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s how this budget is getting balanced every year.”
In other business, the board approved everything on the consent agenda including a new ornamental security fence at the Thomas Campbell Oakman Chapel at a cost of $9,763 and a budget amendment in the amount of $58,000 for vehicle maintenance and fuel.
The board also voted to schedule a public hearing on June 20 on a proposed annexation.