6/5/2020 8:10:00 AM City Budget Approved No change in tax rate; no increase in utility fees--yet.
Wayne Howard Staff Writer
Lincolnton's 2020-2021 City Budget was approved without comment from the public Thursday night (June 4th). Unlike the County budget, there was no controversy over the City's plans.
A crowd appeared at the County's budget hearing Monday night, most of them dissatisfied with Commissioners' plans to cut the school budget. At Thursday night's meeting, nobody spoke during the public hearing on the proposed City Budget.
The budget will, according to City Manager Steve Zickefoose, maintain all services to city residents at current levels. A number of capital improvement projects were earmarked as frozen--meaning they're part of the budget, but won't be undertaken unless funds are available.
There won't be any change in the tax rate, and the utility fees will remain the same--unless... Zickefoose told the City Council that Lincolnton has $178,000 in utility fees due from March and the same amount from April. Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order relative to the COVID-19 pandemic placing a moratorium on utility cutoffs for non-payment and forbidding utility providers from collecting late fees during the period. On Monday, Cooper extended the moratorium until the end of July.
Zickefoose says the City is not only missing the money from those unpaid bills, likely to be increased by another similar amount for June, but has also lost money from the reduced use of utilities during the shutdown. He said the City has asked for a part of the County's allocation of $1.6 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds and hopes to get about $200,000.
"We already know that some of those who haven't paid won't pay; they may move away, and if the money we're owed isn't paid, it would take about a 10% increase in utility fees to make up for it."
Zickefoose said he fears some may be considering the Governor's edict and not having to pay right now a 'freebie.' "Those bills will have to be paid," he said, "just not right now. The purpose of the order was to help people get by while some of them were unable to work. When the moratorium ends, we'll begin cutting off utilities for non-payment. Those who haven't paid will have six months to pay the past due bills plus their regular monthly bills; if they don't we'll have no choice but to disconnect."
The Council adopted a payment plan Zickefoose suggested that will give those who haven't paid during the moratorium six months to pay the past due amounts. They'll have to make scheduled payments on the past due amount each month plus pay their new monthly utility bills.
"For some, making those payments as well as paying their regular monthly bills is going to be difficult," Zickefoose said, "that's why we've suggested they go ahead and make incremental payments of whatever they can now rather than wait."
In other business Thursday night, the Council approved a $15,000 incentive grant to Untapped Territory. Brian & Marie Kenyon and their sons opened the pub in August 2018. They now plan to expand into an adjacent building and create a location for venues plus expand their brewing operations.
The Council also formalized the adoption of the Small Business Emergency Loan Program. Begun in early April, the program offers loans up to $15,000 to small businesses operating in the city. So far, 18 businesses have used the program and have been approved for $221,000. That leaves $89,000 still available. The loans have an interest rate of 6.75% and businesses have three years to repay with no payment due in the first year. The Council created the program to help small businesses, many of whom were finding it difficult to get loans from the SBA's PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) program.
The Council also approved joining with Lincoln County in hiring a Hickory firm, McGill and Associates, to develop a joint Recreation Master Plan. The City will pay 30% of the cost--$26,850--and the County will pay 70%.