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Demands on city may force tax increase

Demands on city may force tax increase

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GREENSBORO — Police leaders say they need more officers to reduce response times. Water officials have to cover the cost of replacing aging sewer lines. The parks department needs extra hands to keep the grass cut at War Memorial Stadium.

At the center of these demands of Greensboro’s government is its chief executive, Ed Kitchen, who will present a proposed budget to the City Council Tuesday.

After a year with no tax increase, the city manager says property taxes will have to rise to pay for programs that officials say are not just desirable, but necessary.

Unlike the federal government, Greensboro’s budget must be balanced without borrowing money.

Demands for extra police officers and other changes are putting pressure to raise extra money.

Kitchen has already warned residents that property taxes, water rates and trash fees are likely to rise in the next year. The spending plan will be a starting place for debate; it is ultimately up to the council to authorize additional spending and any tax increases.

The following key issues will likely be a focus of debate this year:

• Police: After a record number of homicides in 2003 and complaints by officer organizations that the police force was understaffed, the city launched an extensive study of the department.

The study found that patrol officers have almost no time to do “proactive” policing and have the slowest response time of big cities in the state.

To alleviate the problem, the study proposed adding anywhere from 17 to 99 additional officers to the 511-member force. Police Chief David Wray said his department needs every one of the 99 officers suggested, a move that would eventually cost almost $6 million a year.

Councilwoman Claudette Burroughs-White has long argued for a greater police presence in her northeast Greensboro district, and others on the council have also expressed support for at least some additional officers.

In addition, the department has asked for $1.4 million to buy 33 new police cruisers and SUVs for patrol officers and the Tactical Special Enforcement Team.

• Utilities: Residents could see an increase in trash disposal fees and higher water rates.

The council has already decided to close the city’s White Street Landfill and instead ship its garbage to landfills elsewhere in the state. The additional cost of trucking the waste could mean an estimated increase in the monthly residential trash fee from $5 to more than $13, or a 3-cent increase in the property tax rate.

In addition, the city’s Water Resources Department expects to raise water and sewer rates about 15 percent to pay off bonds that are financing the Randleman reservoir and repairs to sewage lines. The increase comes out to about $4 extra a month for the average residence.

• War Memorial Stadium: Parks and Recreation Department officials have asked for a half-million dollar addition to their budget to help maintain the city-owned baseball stadium.

Once the minor-league Greensboro Bats finish their season this fall and move into a new privately-financed stadium downtown, the city will be responsible for maintaining the field.

City officials have promised to keep the historic structure as a venue for collegiate and amateur baseball games.

Many council members have said in the past weeks that they will wait to see Kitchen’s recommendation before committing to new spending.

Councilman Robbie Perkins said he would want to limit any tax increase as much as possible to help the city’s economy. While he said some additional spending on police protection is needed, there are other programs that could be cut.

Perkins has long opposed spending money on the Hagan-Stone Park, which is essentially surrounded by the Town of Pleasant Garden. He also questioned the need for the Commission on the Status of Women, a city program that advises the council on issues concerning women.

“Maybe we needed it in 1980, but do we need it 25 years later?” Perkins said.

Council members will hold work sessions this Thursday and next week to debate budget issues and hope to vote on the budget package before the end of the month.

Contact Matt Williams at

373-7004 or mwilliams@

news-record.com

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