Staying true to the goals it created at the outset of budget deliberations, the Laurinburg City Council passed a budget this week that included no tax or fee increases.
Property taxes will remain at 40-cents per $100 valuation for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Taxes on the downtown district will also hold steady at 21-cents per $100.
“It was very important for us to stick to our budget message,” said Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker on Friday.
The city’s budget totaled $34,426,842.
Among the budget objectives included in the initial working budget were keeping taxes at the same rate, maintaining the same fee levels and to continue to “look for ways to improve the city’s quality of life.”
“Had we raised taxes or fees, in this economy, I don’t think that would have been well received,” said Parker.
One of the biggest changes to come out of this year’s budget deliberations was the move of city employees to a new pay plan.
Employees’ salaries that were found by a research firm hired by the city to be “out of line” with what was considered competitive pay had their salaries adjusted by the city. That decision affected more than 40 employees.
City employees, except for where the new pay plan would see them receive more money, were also awarded an $800 bonus by the council.
That bonus, payable in July, was approved unanimously by the board this week.
“That was an effort to thank them for their hard work and dedication,” said Parker.
The council also agreed to move to a merit-based pay system in fiscal year 2013-14. According to Parker, the system will be created with the goal of rewarding employees who work hard as well as those who save the city money.
Over the next year City Manager Ed Burchins along with an “executive team” will be tasked with designing the plan, which will be based around new “360” evaluation software.
“The software provides for an equitable evaluation, in which supervisors can evaluate workers, but which also allows employees to evaluate their supervisors,” said Councilman Kenton Spencer.
Prior to approving the final budget, the council also voted to award Burchins a $1200 bonus for his work, which Parker says “has gotten progressively better.”
Burchins told the mayor on Friday morning that he wished to designate $400 for his professional development budget.
“I just felt uncomfortable that we were giving all our other employees $800,” said Burchins. “I appreciate the council’s offer based on my evaluation, but I just did not think it was fair.”
Parker praised the decision, calling it a “gesture that (the city employees) were all together.”
Parker also praised the work of the council in finalizing the budget.
“In the end I felt like council did a good job,” said Parker.
“I think Laurinburg has good days in front of it, and we have just got to pull together and be positive and keep our momentum going,” Parker added.
According to Parker, a larger version of the “stakeholders meeting” that occurred earlier this month will likely take place in August.
“We will advertise that meeting, and have it in a room that will at least hold fifty,” said Parker, adding that all of the city council will be invited.
The first stakeholders meeting was criticized by some members of the council for being too exclusive.
“My intent was not to exclude anyone, and for this next meeting we will be prepared to have more people,” said Parker.