Opinion Columns & Blogs

Look out your window and see: Rock Hill is a 'good town' becoming a 'great city.'

John Gettys
John Gettys

The Rock Hill City Council held its first budget workshop on April 26, to review a staff proposal for the 2018/2019 budget totaling $245,817,492. Based on citizen feedback obtained through a citizen survey and focus groups, City Council approves a three-year strategic plan which guides budget recommendations. This upcoming budget year marks the start of a new plan focused on serving, engaging and growing.

The City’s total budget is made up of several self-contained funds, which have separate sets of balanced revenues and expenditures. The utility funds are also kept separate, and budgeted as any business would—with the goal of revenues covering expenses. Therefore, as costs increase or capital projects become necessary, rates may be affected.

In the general fund, the FY 2018/2019 budget does NOT include any proposed tax increase, and no sanitation increase for residential customers.There is a proposed increase of 10 percent for commercial sanitation rates to cover expenses related to an increased cost for taking our trash to the County landfill.The last commercial sanitation increase was in the 2008/2009 budget year.

Two exciting initiatives that will become reality in the coming budget year are the Rock Hill Sports and Event Center indoor athletic facility at University Center in Knowledge Park, and the free electric bus service. We expect both to begin operating in April 2019. In order for both of these initiatives to be successful and operated in a manner that the people of Rock Hill and our visitors should expect, staff proposes 11 full-time and 19 part-time staff for the indoor center, and 14 full-time staff for the bus system.

The Sports and Event Center will provide another world-class amenity for our residents, paid for with hospitality tax funds collected mostly from visitors to the area. The bus service is primarily funded with federal funds.There are four planned routes along major thoroughfares and around Knowledge Park, providing valuable connections to some of our community’s best places for shopping, dining, entertainment and jobs.

I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s remarkable these two significant projects can be done without a tax increase. Moreover, this time next year thousands of people will be in our downtown area every weekend. Honestly, making sure we are prepared and ready to fully capture the benefits of this long planned economic and community building effort known as Knowledge Park, is an experience that is exhilarating and, thanks to the professionalism of our city management team, a win-win.

In our utilities funds, for the second year in a row, there are NO proposed electric rate increases, as our cost to purchase power has remained stable. In other words, the cost of electricity is not going to increase for another year.

The City is always available to meet with customers whose bills increase because of unseasonable weather, or other user issues, to identify methods to try to keep costs down. Utility bills are most directly affected by consumption—the amount of water and electricity each of us use each month.

The budget does include a modest increase in water and wastewater rates.These monies are necessary to pay for water plant improvements and related infrastructure, along with similar infrastructure work at the wastewater plant. The proposed water increase is $1.20, with a $1.25 proposed wastewater increase for the average residential customer.

While ANY increase affects each of us, it is vital that we plan ahead for future infrastructure needs to ensure our services remain reliable and efficient. Expansions at both the water treatment plant (Cherry Road) and wastewater treatment plant (Red River Road) will help us meet the capacity of our growing region.

The total cost to complete the work at the water plant is $52.4 million.The total cost to complete the work at the Wastewater Treatment plant, and necessary related infrastructure, is $290.2 million.The proposed increases in this year’s budget help us chip away at this necessary work in a very cost effective manner.

The City website is a great resource for a variety of information, including easy access to detailed financials on the city website at cityofrockhill.com/transparency. I encourage you to learn more about the strategic planning process, what Council has prioritized for our community, dig into the budget, review the financial dashboard and become involved in the public process.

The purpose of the budget process is to make value statements as to what we as a community aspire to be — a thriving community with opportunities for all people.When you live in a community that has been able to transition from a textile town into what we enjoy today, and do so without a tax increase since 2006 or an electric rate increase for the second year in a row, I believe you have proof that the City is a good steward of the people’s money.

There will be many questions asked by the members of your City Council to ensure all are comfortable with the explanations and reasoning that have gone into this proposed budget by City Management and, as a result, tweaking and changes will be made to the budget document.There will also be more information provided to the Council at our next workshop so that all are comfortable we are adequately prepared for unforeseen circumstances, as well as preparing for our anticipated growth trends.

The success we are enjoying today in Rock Hill is clearly evident. Look out your car windows when driving around town or come to Fountain Park and use one of Comporium’s new bicycles and take a spin around Knowledge Park to see how our good town is transforming into a great city. Finally, if at all interested in being a part of the Knowledge Park success story or, at the very least, to know more about what the future holds for our community, please visit knowledgeparkrocks.com.

It is not too late to attend a meeting or take a trip with these work groups to see how other communities are working on technology, inclusiveness, connectivity and other issues that define success or failure. This effort will allow us to avoid issues that have slowed other communities and adopt the best practices we uncover from such other communities.

John Gettys is mayor of the city of Rock Hill