Increases in utilities, road repair money on City Council table

adouglas@heraldonline.comJune 8, 2014 

  • Quick look at Rock Hill’s planned spending

    Utility bills to increase, property tax unchanged

    If City Council passes Rock Hill’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, the city’s average residential utility customer will pay $7.66 more each month.

    Most of the increase comes from a 6 percent electric rate hike for residents and businesses. The increase also comes from a plan to charge residents 30 percent more in stormwater fees and businesses between 20 percent to 30 percent more in stormwater fees.

    To begin fixing stormwater drainage issues around Rock Hill, city leaders say the stormwater fee increase is needed. The rate hike will bring in about $700,000 more next year, officials estimate, which will pay for improvement projects.

    Other utility costs and property taxes are expected to remain unchanged during the next year. Proposed utility bill increases would go into effect on July 1, 2014.

    Tennis Center membership rates to rise

    For the first time since opening the Rock Hill Tennis Center in 2005, city officials plan to increase the cost of individual and family memberships at the facility.

    If City Council approves the change, adult single memberships would cost $200, instead of $150. Family memberships would cost $350, instead of $300. Youth memberships would increase by $25 and senior memberships rates will not change.

    Work to begin on fire training facility

    As York County makes plans to build a new training facility for firefighters outside of Rock Hill, city leaders say they’re planning improvements to the existing training center on Ogden Road. Over the next year, Rock Hill could spend about $100,000 to assess the center and design plans for a new training facility.

    Officials say it could eventually cost up to $1.6 million to build a modern training facility, which would include a new burn building and tower for firefighter classes. The city already owns the land where the current facility sits.

  • Want to go?

    What: Rock Hill City Council meeting and public hearing to discuss the city’s budget for the next year

    When: Monday, 6 p.m.

    Where: City Council chambers in City Hall, 155 Johnston St., downtown

    Meetings are also broadcast live on Rock Hill’s government access channel, cable channel 19. The city’s website has a live stream of City Council meetings here: www.cityofrockhill.com/citychannel.

A proposed spending plan for the city of Rock Hill includes an electric and stormwater fee increase that would raise customers’ bills by about $90 a year, more money to hire four new police officers, and increased spending to repair roads.

The City Council meets Monday night to discuss and hold the first of two votes on the proposed budget, which will guide spending from July 2014 to June 2015. Monday’s meeting will include a public hearing for residents to comment.

Rock Hill’s proposed budget is about $204 million – a 6 percent increase from the current year’s budget of about $192 million.

Most of the increased spending comes from Rock Hill’s higher cost to buy electricity, which is going up 6.7 percent. Under the proposed budget, customers would pay about 6 percent – or about $7 – more each month for electricity to cover the rising cost.

The City Council will also consider on Monday a 70 cent increase in monthly residential stormwater fees. Under the proposed increase, businesses would pay between 20 percent to 30 percent more each month, depending on several factors including building size.

Another large portion of the increased proposed budget is Rock Hill’s plan to hire 18 new employees, including staffers for utilities and parks, recreation and tourism. The City Council will decide whether to hire four new police officers, a new fire battalion chief and more city court staff.

Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun says the investments in public safety are “the biggest move” in next year’s budget. Adding one police officer costs about $77,500 each year, which includes the officer’s salary, equipment and police vehicle.

With more officers on the street, Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts says he can improve his department’s response times. He’s proposed adding a 10th police zone to the city, which would shrink each officer’s coverage area.

Shrinking the zones does not change the department’s overall coverage but allows officers to saturate areas across the city.

Rock Hill has been enjoying growth, Vehaun said, which allows the city to spend more money on public safety. As the city grows with more residents and businesses, he said, it makes sense to concentrate on necessary services such as police and fire. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Rock Hill’s population grew 3.8 percent from 2010 to 2013, to just more than 69,000.

Still, he said, “we’ve been real careful in regard to the economy.”

Many of the city’s revenue streams, such as fees for building permits and business licenses, have exceeded budget expectations this year. But those areas of city government – which are dependent on the local economy – are still not up to pre-recession levels.

As the city has grown, Vehaun said, Rock Hill has avoided raising its property taxes for the past two decades.

While Rock Hill’s operations are expected to perform better than budgeted when the fiscal year ends later this month, Vehaun said the city’s estimated $300,000 surplus is still tight. At the end of the fiscal year, the city will put less than half a percent of its budget into reserves.

At about $9.2 million, Rock Hill’s reserve fund balance could be better, Vehaun said.

Local governments maintain reserve funds or savings for emergency spending or unexpected costs. The amount of money cities and counties have on hand also affects interest rates when governments borrow money.

More repairs for potholes

Also on Monday, the City Council will consider spending extra money for road maintenance. The $500,000 for street repairs, including repaving, is part of a multi-year plan to repair potholes and keep streets in better condition, Vehaun said. Last year, the council approved spending $400,000 on road maintenance – a $100,000 increase after spending on local street repair totaled $300,000 a year for several years.

Next year, the council could choose to spend another $100,000 more, if the proposed budget is approved.

The trend to continue to increase spending on road maintenance is expected to continue over the next few years, Vehaun said.

Though many roads in Rock Hill are state-owned and responsibility for maintaining those roads falls to the S.C. Department of Transportation, the city recently signed an agreement with SCDOT to perform road repairs. Rock Hill’s repaving crew is using an improved process to fix potholes, and Vehaun and others expect the new road patches will last longer.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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