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Rock Hill considers $10 utility bill increase, higher sports fees

Rock Hill residents won't get a property tax increase but could see monthly utility bills rise by about $10 under a budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by City Manager Carey Smith.

With no tax increase on the table, City Council members raised few objections to Smith's $168 million spending plan - the last of his eight-year tenure in Rock Hill.

One potential topic of debate: a plan to hire a consultant to figure out ways to recruit jobs to the downtown area, where unemployment and building vacancies are the highest in town. Rock Hill's jobless rate stands at 22.8 percent - nearly twice the state average.

Money for the consultant was not included in the budget but could be added later, Smith said. The price is estimated at $75,000.

In recent years, the focus has been on redeveloping old buildings such as the Cotton Factory and Highland Park Mill, said Stephen Turner, director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp.

"Through all that, we've never had a sustained focus on how we bring jobs back to the center city," Turner said. "It's time to put the focus on jobs."

The idea drew questions from Councilman John Black, who asked whether hiring another consultant makes sense. The city already has brought in experts to help with an Old Town master plan, a Textile Corridor development plan and - most recently - a College Town Action Plan.

"None of the other planning that's ever been done has had this specific focus," Turner responded.

No layoffs or major cuts

Smith's budget does not call for drastic spending cuts or layoffs like those facing York County government and area school boards.

The city is fortunate to be an electric provider, Smith said, noting utility sales have remained steady during the economic downturn.

"Rock Hill would be a much poorer city, a smaller city" without its own utility system, Smith said. "We are able to manage ourselves through this fiscal crisis."

It also helps that state money - which has dropped sharply amid the recession - accounts for only 2.3 percent of Rock Hill's budget.

Council members voiced pride in preserving a $7.2 million reserve fund. The city has instead relied on special pots of money - such as stimulus dollars for six of 12 new police officers and hospitality taxes for sports venues and clean-up projects.

Smith credited the city's history of holding down staffing levels. City Hall will employ 454 full-time, non-public safety workers in 2011, 53 fewer than in 1991.

However, employees did not escape the recession. They would forego pay raises for the second straight year in favor of one-time merit awards of 1.5 percent. The move will save $1.6 million over two years.

Costlier weddings at Glencairn Garden

Couples might soon have to pay fees to use city-owned Glencairn Garden for outdoor weddings.

Fees would range from $250 to $350 depending on location in the park. Out-of-county residents would pay an additional $100.

Officials say the policy will help recover expenses and ensure proper use of Glencairn. Currently, Rock Hill requires only a $50 refundable deposit for city residents.

Higher fees for youth sports

With growing demands on field space, staff and budgets, park and recreation officials propose charging more for youth sports.

Fees would rise to $35 for baseball, recreational soccer, softball and football. Previous prices ranged from $28 to $30. Competitive soccer would rise from $70 to $75.

PRT Director Ed Thompson showed figures to prove Rock Hill's rates would still be cheaper than neighboring communities and church leagues.

What it means to you

$0 No tax rate increase

$0 No stormwater or sanitation increases

$5.15 Electric rate increase

$0.97 Water rate increase

$3.84 Wastewater increase

$9.96 Total average increase in monthly bill