The Town of Harrisburg recently approved its 2019-20 fiscal year budget with no property tax increase, but with increases in water and sewer fees.
Town staff, along with the support and direction of Harrisburg Town Council worked to finalize the budget over five separate workshops that began in January.
The total budget is nearly $70.3 million for the general fund, water and sewer fund, storm water fund, capital reserve fund and capital project funds.
Town Manager Haynes Brigman said after the town increased taxes by 6.5 cents per $100 valuation for fiscal year 2019, the priority of this year’s budget was to continue executing the priorities which lead to the tax increase; parks and recreation capital projects, the start of transportation bond projects and continued service-level improvement or public safety departments.
In addition to these priorities, Brigman said the town made investments in economic development opportunities for the future, emphasized residential development standards and protections and sought out avenues for generating additional revenues through investment opportunities.
“Each measure directly correlates to ensuring Harrisburg remains a vibrant, attractive, safe and active community for residents, business owners and visitors to enjoy,” Brigman said in his budget message.
The first section of Brigman’s budget message addressed the town’s general fund.
Harrisburg has experienced strong residential growth over the past decade, which continues to be the trend going into 2020. In addition to residential growth, Harrisburg is also beginning to see an uptick in commercial growth and redevelopment of commercial property, especially along the Highway 49 corridor.
Brigman said this growth has allowed the town to maintain low tax rates while at the same time increasing and expanding its service delivery to residents.
“The tax increase in fiscal year 2019 was enacted in large part to address the future needs of the community,” Brigman said. “Three main drivers of the tax increase were an effort to boost public safety, address the growing expansion and service needs of the Parks and Recreation Department and begin implementing the projects associated with the transportation bond that was approved by voters in 2017.”
The total general fund expenses for 2020 are $15,794,200, a 3.38 percent increase over 2019. The major impact of this increase is related to major capital projects being started in 2020 like the Harrisburg Park expansion project, Veterans Plaza construction, the recent completion of Fire Station 2 and the start of those transportation bond projects. Operational expenses within the general fund increase by 3.7 percent mostly due to staffing needs within the Parks and Recreation Department, additional deputies contracted with the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department, investments in transportation opportunities and planning initiatives including an update to the town’s Unified Development Ordinance and planning for aesthetic improvements along Highway 49.
“As the town implemented its first ever 10-year capital plan in FY2019, along with the necessary funding mechanisms to achieve those priorities over that time, we are now prepared to actively move into bringing these priorities to reality in a relatively short period of time,” Brigman said. “There have been changes made to the 10-year capital plan over the past year, but the town continues to emphasize the importance of addressing the need of the community now, and well into the future.”
In 2020, the town plans to begin construction on the $9 million Harrisburg Park expansion that will add multi-purpose fields, playground amenities, a shelter, splash pad, amphitheater, bike and walking trails and additional parking.
Some of the big changes to our capital plan include the town choosing to move away from constructing and operating its own Community/Recreational facility, scheduled for 2028, and partnering with the YMCA to construct a multi-use facility in Harrisburg Park that meets the needs of the YMCA members of Harrisburg but also provides benefits to the residents. The YMCA expects to begin construction in 2022.
Water and Sewer Fund
Also in his budget message, Brigman addressed the water and sewer budget for 2019, which is a total of more than $12.5 million, an 18.5 percent increase from last year.
The town also developed a 10-year financial model and capital plan for this fund that will allow it to address not only current needs and demands, but also prepare for the future needs as well.
The town last implemented a water and sewer rate increase in 2017. Since that time it has absorbed 5 percent rate increases annually from the City of Concord for water purchases, as well as 5 percent increases for waste water treatment from WSACC. These two increases amount to an average increase of $140,000 annually that has been absorbed by the town and not passed on to customers.
“The town has made significant capital investment in water and sewer line replacement projects over the past two years and will continue to make investments in the aging portions of our system over the next 10 years. However, due to the timing and importance of these infrastructure replacement projects, some of these capital expenses are unable to be funded without additional revenue sources,” Brigman said in his message. “The water and sewer fund have benefited greatly from the residential growth over the past decade, as growth in revenue has allowed the town to accommodate both capital and operational expenses during that same time. With that being said, the water and sewer fund has reached a tipping point where additional revenues are needed to meet the service delivery demands as well as infrastructure improvement demands of the system.”
For those reasons, Brigman said the water and sewer budget was prepared with a 9.5 percent increase in rates for all customers. The increases are intended to overcome the expected increased cost in water purchase and treatment, as well as capital planning needs over the next 10 years.
In addition to water and sewer rate increases, the budget also includes fee increases for System Development Charges associated with new development, which are paid by new customers/developers.
“Both of these efforts to increase revenue for the water and sewer fund will put the utility in position to fund the growing needs of our community and ensure safe, high-quality water and sewer services,” Brigman said.
Storm Water Fund
The storm water fund has a budget of $741,800 which is a 7 percent increase from last year. The most significant increase to thus budget is related to allocated salary expenses for new engineering employees who will be responsible for overseeing the town’s Phase II Stormwater Permit, which is mandated by the state.
“Over the past three budget seasons, town staff has continued to improve and refine the budget process, continued to dive deeper into the behind-the-scenes data collection and review and put policies and practices into place that strengthen the financial stability and direction of the town,” Brigman said. “Harrisburg has a tremendous future and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to serve the Harrisburg Town Council and its citizens.”