City strives to keep costs under control

The Rock Hill City Council held its first budget workshop on April 23. The City Council takes a very businesslike approach to the city budget, and this year is no exception. Our decisions are always fundamentally based on providing exceptional services to our citizens at the lowest possible cost.

With this budget we begin a new cycle in our three-year strategic plan. Each update to our strategic plan begins with a citizens’ survey and citizen forums – conducted by an independent third party – in which Rock Hill residents are randomly selected to provide satisfaction ratings regarding the city’s delivery of a variety of services.

The City Council uses your feedback to develop the strategic plan, a work program which is used as the basis for every budget that we adopt. It is organized around three initiatives: providing quality services, developing quality places, and fostering a quality community.

The proposed city budget includes no tax increase. In fact, the City Council has not raised property taxes in the last 10 years. If you live in Rock Hill you will be happy to know that we are the only taxing entity to which you pay taxes that has not increased your taxes over this 10-year period.

During a period of significant growth in our community, the city continues to look for ways to cut costs and increase efficiencies without raising your taxes. Additionally, there is no proposed increase in sanitation or stormwater rates for our customers.

The city is proposing a slight 1 percent increase in water and sewer rates. This will result in a small increase to utility bills – about 66 cents per month on average. This increase in fees will allow us to keep the water and sewer system in good shape.

In recent months, we have seen several cities in our state and region face orders from the federal government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on their utility systems due to years of neglect. I want to assure you that this is not the case in Rock Hill. In fact, our system is constantly being modernized and meets or exceeds all federal requirements.

And here is the good news: we have done all this while maintaining some of the lowest water and sewer rates in the region.

For more information on our rates, I encourage you to visit www.rankingrockhill.com and click on “Tax & Utility Rates Comparisons.”

The city is also considering a 5 percent increase in electric rates for the coming year – but good news is on the horizon with regard to our electric rates. The city has mainly raised electric rates in the past to meet our cost increases from our power provider – Piedmont Municipal Power Agency (PMPA).

The past rate increases from PMPA have been driven by the need for PMPA to increase its revenues to meet its cost obligations as a partial owner of the Catawba Nuclear Station. This most recent increase from PMPA to the city represents the last rate increase needed to meet these obligations.

In the future, PMPA should have little or no need to increase our electric rates. This will result in significantly reduced rate increases for customers over the remaining useful life of the Catawba Nuclear Station (until 2043). Since the city is a partial owner of PMPA, we will all reap the benefits of much lower rate increases for the next 28 years.

The entire City Council is grateful for the feedback we receive from our citizens. This information helps shape our strategic plan and our spending priorities each year. The proposed budget includes a number of initiatives to meet the concerns and needs of our citizens and continues important initiatives already underway:

▪ A $360,000 increase in road resurfacing will almost double the amount we spend on paving our roads. An additional $300,000 is proposed for the following year.

▪ Two new pothole trucks will allocate two city crews to focus full time on potholes.

▪ We will continue to offer a 10 percent discount for on-time business license payments. Our license fees are already among the lowest in the state.

▪ Five new police officers will be added over the next two years including the addition of a new K-9 unit.

▪ The implementation of a curbside residential roll cart recycling program will help increase participation and, therefore, lower costs. Under this plan the city will provide customers – at no charge – a new 95-gallon roll cart similar to your green trash roll cart and brown YardCart. This will allow all recyclable materials to be put in one cart for single-stream recycling and in many cases reduce the number of times per month the cart has to be dumped.

A number of important items also remain on our program of work for the coming year. We continue our emphasis on development of the Knowledge Park as we work toward a final agreement with a master developer for the Bleachery site.

The coming year will also result in continued development in our downtown with the first planned residential units opening this coming year. We also plan to continue work on our Cherry Road Revitalization Strategy with safety lighting under I-77 and a new incentive program to encourage businesses along Cherry Road to improve their landscaping and general appearance.

New amenities will continue to develop at Riverwalk in the coming year including the extension of the Piedmont Medical Center Trail that will provide a trail connection all the way to River Park.

Our City Council takes seriously its obligation to be transparent, inclusive and collaborative when it comes to spending your tax dollars. The City Council carefully reviews strategic goals, associated objectives and appropriate performance indicators to ensure progress.

Our citizens can easily access data through our performance and financial dashboards, online tools designed to clearly illustrate our challenges and successes. We strongly believe that the level of transparency inherent in our strategic plan and budget is important to inspire citizen confidence, foster understanding and provide accountability throughout city operations.

I encourage you to learn more about the city’s budget at www.cityofrockhill.com/transparency.

Doug Echols is mayor of Rock Hill.