Local

June 8, 2014

Increases in utilities, road repair money on City Council table

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

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.

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