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In Their Own Words — City has challenges, successes

 

JEFF EMORY

Guest Columnist

Editor’s Note: The Times-News recently invited Lincoln County’s elected officials and civic leaders to periodically submit guest columns to appear on our opinion page. We’ve offered them the opportunity to share, with our readers, their thoughts on a topic of their choosing.

 

The City of Lincolnton’s mission statement is, “to responsibly provide cost-effective services to our citizens which will protect and improve the quality of life.” My job as city manager is to work with staff, the mayor and city council members to see that this goal is accomplished. The City provides a wide range of services. These include police, fire, finance, parks & recreation, planning & zoning, business & community development, human resources, solid waste, street maintenance and others. These services are provided in the City’s General Fund, which is the largest fund of the city. We provide water treatment, wastewater treatment and utility maintenance in the Water and Sewer Fund. The City also maintains an electric system in a separate Electric Fund.

My job is to work with nine department heads with a supporting staff of approximately 150 employees, to see that these services are carried out in a cost efficient and effective manner. I also work with the governing body to see that policies adopted by them are properly executed. One of the primary functions of the City Manager is to prepare a proposed fiscal year budget for City Council’s consideration.

As mentioned above, the majority of services are provided in the City’s General Fund. The General Fund supports itself in part by the collection of ad valorem taxes, including property and vehicles. The second largest source of revenue is proceeds from sales tax collected within the city limits. Franchise Tax proceeds on utilities is the third largest source of revenue. As with many households and private businesses, the poor economy of the last few years has put a significant strain on the City’s revenue stream. Sales Tax proceeds have declined since the year 2008, and the City’s last property re-valuation actually showed a decline in overall value. Interest earned has also taken a major hit, as well as revenues received from the state. These financial challenges have made it increasingly difficult to be able to continue providing a high level of services, without increases in current fees or the property tax rate. The City has actually held its current $.56 property tax rate for the past fourteen years. This has been done while the above mentioned critical revenue sources have shown significant decline.

One of the biggest challenges facing the City is selling additional water. The Mayor and Council have made this a top priority. The City is currently working with the Lincoln Economic Development Association, to attract new large water and sewer customers, and provide assistance and support to our current ones. One of the current priorities is to enter into a water agreement with the County that will achieve long-term benefits for each entity. To help better understand the current situation the City faces regarding water, in the mid 1990s the City had an average daily water usage of approximately 4.5 million gallons per day. It was at this time the City issued revenue bonds to renovate and enlarge the Water Treatment Plant, and renovate the Wastewater Treatment Plant. At the time the Water Plant was a 6 million gallon per day plant. After the expansion it is now a 9 million gallon per day plant. This expansion was done in part because the state was applying pressure to the City to increase its capacity to meet future demands. The $20 million-plus dollars the City borrowed must be paid for on an annual basis, in addition to the operating requirements of maintaining our system. Today the City is selling approximately 2.7 million gallons per day as compared to 4.5 million gallons per day less than 20 years ago. This reduction has necessitated the City’s increases in water and sewer rates to our customers. This is why it is such a high priority for the City to secure additional water customers.

Even while facing significant financial challenges, the City is very proud to continue providing a high level of services to our citizens. In addition to daily services, the City is also proud to have completed many capital projects over the past several years. These include the completion of the 1.6-mile Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail, Highland Drive Park, Hollybrook Cemetery Expansion, City Hall/Fire Station and several others. Council has placed a high emphasis on creating a business friendly environment, as evidenced by significant development throughout the City the past several years. The manager, elected officials and staff are very appreciative of the support we continue to receive from our citizens.

Jeff Emory is city manager of the City of Lincolnton.

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