The Selma Town Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to adopt an $18.6 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The spending plan maintains the town’s property tax rate of 51 cents per $100 of valuation, and it keeps rates for water, sewer and electricity at their current levels.
The town expects to cut its electricity rates at the end of the calendar year, once it completes a rate study following the sale of its power plant assets to Duke Energy. Selma is one of the 32 members of N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency, which recently agreed to sells its assets to Duke Energy for $1.2 billion.
The budget calls for $1.3 million, or 7.4 percent, more in spending over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. To accomplish that without raising rates, the town will take $360,000 from its savings. The town had about $1.4 million in savings.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Eric Sellers emphasized that the council approved the extra spending to address significant needs in Selma.
“I think people need to understand that we as a town, from an administrative and council side, aren’t just raising the budget a million bucks,” he said.
Those big-ticket expenditures include:
▪ $400,000 to turn an old First Citizens Bank building into a new town hall. The town paid $150,000 last year to acquire the building at 114 N. Raiford St. The budget will cover complete interior renovations, such as electrical and plumbing work, carpet and lighting while adding office space and wheelchair access. The work should start once the new budget year begins July 1 and be done by the end of the year.
▪ $140,000 for new equipment, including three pickup trucks and a tractor-pulled mower for maintaining town roadways.
▪ $124,000 to move the town’s computer network to a third-party vendor that will host its applications in the cloud. Selma’s server is currently overloaded, and the town hopes the transition will speed up work and save money over time.
▪ $120,000 in additional street and drainage work, including money to pave several gravel roads.
▪ $115,000 to make the salaries of town employees more competitive with other local governments. The raises completes the second half of raises called for in a pay study.
▪ Salaries for two new full-time employees: $35,000 for an billing technician and $30,000 for a firefighter.
▪ $33,000 to give all town employees a cost-of-living raise. The council plans to transition to merit-based raises in the future.
The council spent hours discussing the budget at multiple meetings, but a majority ultimately agreed to adopt Town Manager Jon Barlow’s plan without significant changes.
The two votes against the budget came from Councilmen Tommy Holmes and William Overby, who each had issues with the new full-time positions for a firefighter and billing technician. Holmes said he thought the town could have found a way to use volunteers and part-time employees to avoid the extra costs that full-timers earn in benefits.
Overby doubted the town would need another billing technician once it moves its software, because that should speed up the currently sluggish data-entry process. In the fire department, Overby wanted to find a way to come closer to meeting Fire Chief Phillip McDaniel’s original request for three new full-time employees. Based on the way shifts work, that would have given Selma one more firefighter on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Overby asked to see more options for staffing the fire department, perhaps by taking on more volunteers. Instead, a majority of the council voted to approve the budget with Barlow’s recommendation to add only one full-time job in the fire department. The council agreed to consider adding one more position per year for the next two years but did not commit itself to doing so.