Our View: Cost of city living goes up

Jun. 23, 2013 @ 01:45 AM

Last Monday, High Point City Council approved a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year that maintains the current property tax rate but raises utility rates and begins a monthly fee for garbage collection — assessments that hit average- and lower-income residents hard and make the city more costly to live and work in for all.
Over the last few years, city tax rates, utility rates and fees have risen to try to keep pace with increased costs of providing services and other expenditures that City Council has seen fit to approve. It’s an unhealthy trend that many city leaders have campaigned against in seeking office. They must find a way to stop it.
While three members of City Council opposed approving the 2013-14 budget, Mayor Bernita Sims told the Enterprise that all members of council examined City Manager Strib Boynton’s proposal in detail, looking for ways to reduce its overall impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks. Council did in fact cut about $1 million from Boynton’s initial proposal. But still, the coming year’s budget totals about $15 million more in spending than the current year’s budget.
So where does the budget discussion go now? Next year’s tax rate is set — 67.5 cents per $100 of property value — and the additional utility charges and new garbage fee are in place. But that doesn’t mean City Council members should now forget about budget matters until next spring when the city manager proposes a plan for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Now is the time for City Council members to begin evaluating and exploring city government operations and priorities, looking for ways in which the increasing burden on taxpayers can be relieved. And this should be a mission of the entire City Council, not just the three members who actually voted against the coming year’s budget plan last week. But perhaps, those three members of council should take the lead.
During budget discussions, Foster Douglas proposed a 2 percent cut in all departments; Jason Ewing proposed cutting $445,750 in spending to allow a half-cent property tax rate cut; and in past campaigns for mayor and City Council, Jay Wagner has identified areas of spending that could be cut and priorities that could be rearranged. Now is the time for such examinations to begin. Hard decisions require in-depth study that takes more than a few weeks.
Several letter-writers during the past week in Your View have explained how the continued rise of city utility rates and fees has impacted them. Many city residents and taxpayers are concerned. Some are fearful about making ends meet. But they all expect City Council to make tough decisions required to keep the cost of city living down.