Asheboro residents could see increase in city services bills

ASHEBORO — The City of Asheboro Council met last Thursday with the proposed 2022-23 fiscal year budget at the top of the agenda.

The proposed 2022-23 budget is $61,207,222 of which $42,263,842 is the general fund and $18,493,380 is the water and sewer fund. City Manager John Ogburn called the budget adjustments “the bare minimum” needed to attract and keep employees and forecasted wages would “most likely need to be adjust even higher in the near future” in his memo to the city council ahead of the budget meetings. 

While the new budget recommends no increase in city property taxes, services to city residents are likely to see fee increases. The budget proposes a 12% increase in the water rate as well as an increase for residential garbage collection and recycling. 

Pay increases were also a major factor in the proposed budget.  

“We are requesting a two job grade step increase for all City of Asheboro employees,” said Finance Director Deborah Reaves. “In addition to that, we are requesting a 6% cost of living adjustment for sworn police officers. We realize that in this environment that this is not enough. We are going to have to continue to look at strategies because we want to provide the best services we can for our citizens, and we have to have people in positions in order to do that.”

Reaves cited a historically low unemployment environment, fewer people in the workforce, high demand for skilled workers among a variety of industries and a competitive salary base shift that governments are struggling to keep up with as reasons why these actions are necessary in order to attract and keep employees.

“We are not asking for a property rate tax increase,” Reaves said. “However, we are asking for an increase in the residential garbage collection and recycling rate. The main reason for that is the cost of providing services has increased. We can no longer rely on taxpayer revenue to cover those expenses.” The garbage fee would increase by $6 to $18 and the recycling free would rise $3 to $5. These fees are collected monthly with water and sewer bills. 

The water and sewer rate increases were recommended due to rising costs and maintenance and repair needs. This would be the first water and sewer rate increase since July 2014. 

The Asheboro Police Chief Mark Lineberry also presented his annual report to the council. 

In 2021-22, the Asheboro Police Department serviced 25,522 calls, an increase from the previous two years. In terms of crimes committed, Asheboro saw increases in homicides, breaking and entering, motor vehicle theft and decreases in robberies, larcenies, aggravated assaults and DWI.

Officers started carrying Narcan starting in November 2021. Since then, officers have used Narcan on 53 occasions with mostly all positive results, according to Lineberry.

The department is also getting closer to reaching their response time goals.

“Our goal is to have a five-minute response time, and we’re very close to meeting that,” Lineberry said. “Currently we have an average response time of 5:05.”

Following recent events in the country, the council was also briefed on the city’s active shooter response training by Lineberry.

“After Columbine in 1999, that pretty much changed the way that police trained as far as these active shooter situations,” Lineberry said. “It was no longer to surround and set up a perimeter and then call SWAT. They trained us that if you hear shooting, you have to go in and confront the shooter and stop it. We’ve been training like that for probably the past 22 years. And the way we’re trained, if you’re the first officer on the scene, and there’s no one else arriving anytime soon and you hear gunfire, you have to go in alone sometimes.”

The department has trained in a variety of locations over the years such as schools, churches, malls, businesses and parks to make sure they are prepared for any situation, according to Lineberry.

Lineberry also mentioned how, for these training, the police department has also always been joined by Asheboro Fire, NC Wildlife, Probation and Parole and EMS. “The number one goal: Stop the shooting,” Lineberry said. “After we get some more people there, the secondary goal is that we will protect Fire and EMS so they can come in and start helping the wounded, getting them out of there and giving them medical care. The police would protect them. That’s how it’s taught and that’s how we train.”

“The most important thing we have right now is teamwork,” said Fire Chief Willie Summers. “Teamwork and communications. For the past three years, we have worked together hand-in-hand training. In fact, in July we’ll have a four-day training event and it relates to not just shootings, but mass casualty incidents. That’s one thing we have going that is really, really positive right now is our work relationship.”

In the face of exponentially rising prices at the pump, Public Works Director, David Hutchins, gave an update to the council on the methods the city is undergoing to conserve fuel. 

“We’re having to rethink the way we do things,” Hutchins said. “Like what equipment we use when because some equipment burns more fuel. One thing might be the ideal piece of equipment, but it’s going to burn three times the fuel. But we can go and do the job with a third of the fuel cost with something else, it might just take another 30-45 minutes longer.”

Currently, the city is cutting back on certain ones such as brush and leaf cleanup, street sweeping and sewer cleaning simply because of the fuel consumption of the vehicles and equipment required.

“We haven’t stopped any services, but we’ve had to cut back a little bit on services that people really, really love around this time, but we’ll get back there,” Hutchins said.

While the concern over fuel isn’t a problem of quantity available, rather overall price, the city does have plenty of emergency fuel reserves set aside, according to Hutchins.

“What we’re doing is working,” Hutchins said. “We’re conserving fuel and the vendors that we deal with, they advise us to keep conserving. We’re just going to balance the best way we can because we don’t want to get caught without. Right now, it’s working, so we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully, it don’t get no worse.”

“Bottom line is that even if there is not a shortage, because there is plenty of fuel, the fact is it’s doubled in price and it is creating a huge hole in our budget,” said Mayor David Smith. 

The council then moved on to action items, starting with an approval for a consistency statement and proposed zoning ordinance text amendment pertaining to sign regulations; definitions, permissible types and areas and illumination standards.

“The amendments would largely do two things,” said Community Development Director Trevor Nuttall. “Alter permissible electronic changeable copy and multi-use commercial signs as the first element and as the second, it would establish a maximum daytime and nighttime brightness levels for signs.”

The new amendment changes the regulations from a uniform standard to standards based on the zoning where the signage is located.

The council then approved three separate subdivision cases, all in different stages of development. The preliminary plat for the Timber Ridge property, the final plat certification for the Windcrest Acres property and the sketch design for the Estates of Cedar Falls property were all approved.

Finally, the council approved a $2,070,000 bid request by Truist Bank with a rate of 2.89% for an installment financing terms that will not exceed 59 months and gave approval for Work Authorization 1 which is for the construction of a corporate hangar at Asheboro Regional Airport by W. K. Dickson & Co., Inc.

The City of Asheboro Council will next meet July 14.

By Ryan Henkel