Tax, water rates increasing in East Bend

By Kitsey Burns Harrison -

EAST BEND — The town board of East Bend passed its 2018-19 fiscal year budget on Monday following a public hearing. The new budget includes a property tax rate increase of two cents, from 48 cents per $100 valuation to 50 cents per $100 valuation. This is the first tax rate increase in more than 20 years, said longtime Commissioner Wanda Johnson.

“I was appointed to the board in 1998 and at that time it was 50 cents per $100. We reduced it to 48 cents and it’s been 48 cents until now,” Johnson said. “It’s something I don’t think any of us really wanted to do, but at this point we have to.”

Mayor Archie Hicks noted the rising costs of all the town’s expenses in the last 20 years.

“Our money comes in from those property taxes and we can’t provide the same level of services year in and year out or provide employees with any kind of raises or even operate the vehicles, do the streets, the sidewalks. Personally I don’t think it’s too much to ask, two cents per $100. You can’t really not go up over time,” Hicks said.

The budget also includes an increase in the base rate for water and sewer as well as an increased reconnect fee.

The base water rate will increase $5 per month and the sewer rate increase will be $2.50 per month. The previous bimonthly water rate inside the city limit was $45.02. The new budget will increase the bimonthly rate to $55.02 for the first 1,000 gallons and $10.71 for each additional 1,000 gallons. Outside the city limit, the water rate will increase from $61 to $71 for the first 1,000 gallons and $12.71 for each additional 1,000 gallons.

The residential sewer rate will increase from $50 every two months to $55 and $5 for each additional 1,000 gallons. The commercial and industrial rate will increase from $62.50 to $67.50 and $7.50 for each additional 1,000 gallons. The out-of-town sewer rate will increase from $105 to $110 bimonthly and $10 for each additional 1,000 gallons.

The reconnect fee will increase from $50 to $75. Hicks noted that the increase in the reconnect fee was not to bring in additional revenue but rather to serve as a stronger incentive for on-time bill payment to avoid the reconnect fee.

“At this point we’ve held off increasing the water rates as we did the past several years except last year,” Hicks said. “Hopefully this will stand up in due course. As most of you know, we’ve still not heard back from the county on the request we’ve made to them about the adjustment of water rates they’re charging us, so that’s the real elephant in the room — what is the county finally going to charge us for the water we’re getting from them that they’re getting from Forsyth County. They’re going to the Utilities Commission in Forsyth County to have some amelioration of the rates they’re being charged. We think the county’s being charged too much and we’re being charged too much.”

East Bend resident Dianne Doub was among those who attended the public hearing. She posed several questions to the board.

“Well, Social Security hasn’t gone up,” Doub said. “I just want to know why this [budget hearing] wasn’t put out on the telephone system. I would hope you would think about doing that next time. The system works well and if someone had not told me that this was in the Ripple, I would never have known about it.

“I’m also wondering are newsletters not coming out anymore?” Doub continued. “Have y’all stopped that? I’d also like to know how much the board pays itself and I’d like to know how much the zoning members are paid. And why isn’t a town police chief required to give a full report of crime. I know even the Surry County sheriff does that. He gives the place, what happened, everything, so that the people are well aware.”

Hicks told Doub that each board member receives $100 a month and he, as mayor, receives $200 a month. Zoning board members receive $25 if they attend the meeting.

“Those rates have not gone up as far as I know in the last seven years and we don’t anticipate them going up. We’re not here for the money,” Hicks said.

Doub also spoke in regard to an ongoing issue she has with a neighbor and questioned why the town was not doing anything to resolve the problem.

“Speaking of services to the community, yesterday morning I got up and what’s the first thing I see? I see every day … f*** you, stupid c**t,” Doub said. “It’s my first amendment right to say it. It’s ugly words and y’all are telling me that it’s his first amendment right to put filthy obscene signs for everybody to see. I can’t understand why that’s allowed. It’s filthy.”

Hicks replied, “I guess it’s allowed ‘cause you have the same right to say the same words in here, no one stopped you did they? I don’t appreciate it, but that’s your right to say it, I guess.”

“I think y’all need to work it out with your neighbor and get him to take the signs down,” said Commissioner George Burns.

Doub said she had reported the incidents with her neighbor and provided photographs of the obscene signs to the town police department. She questioned why the zoning board could not do something about the signs in her neighbor’s yard.

“So anybody can put up filthy signs? If I want to line my whole yard with filthy signs for everybody to see, I can do that, right?” Doub asked.

“Yeah, go ahead,” Hicks replied.

Town lawyer Robert Price interjected to say that the budget hearing was not the time for a discussion about the signs.

“You want more money from me, what services am I getting for more money?” Doub said.

“You get all the town services, but filthy signs don’t have anything to do with the town services,” Price said. “They have to do with the first amendment.”

Doub was asked if she had contacted the sheriff’s office about the issue. She said she had.

“A deputy persuaded him to take them down, he had them all hanging in trees in the front. He persuaded him to take them down from the front. It wasn’t anybody from this department. It was a deputy sheriff from the county so now they’re in the back, but anybody that pulls up in a driveway or if there’s children back there, they’re all there,” Doub said.

Commissioner Mae Luffman asked if she could hold on to the photos and return them to her later. Doub agreed and subsequently left the meeting.

Returning to discussion of the budget, Commissioner Kyle Matthews noted that the board had been able to make cuts to spending in some areas.

“Where we had excessive spending the year before, we really went in there and took the budget down as much as we could except for a lot of people that we pay that went up on us,” Matthews said.

East Bend resident Ronnie Fletcher asked several questions about the budget during the hearing. He asked if the tax increase and increase in water rate was added into the new budget.

“I’m just trying to understand why it looked like you came in under budget last year,” Fletcher said.

Hicks explained that budget amendments made throughout the year to cover additional expenses are not reflected in the original document.

“Those amendments don’t go back and change that previous budget as far as the written document itself,” Hicks said.

“I wasn’t here to knit pick, it was just to understand a little more about it,” Fletcher said.

Other town business conducted

When the public hearing on the budget concluded, the regular town meeting began.

Hicks noted the death of former East Bend Mayor Bill Hardy and offered his condolences to the family. Hardy served as mayor for 16 years.

“He was truly a gentleman,” Hicks said. “We’ll miss Bill.”

During the regular public comment portion of the meeting, Fletcher thanked the board for their work in putting together the new budget.

“People that sit back and don’t get involved they don’t know what it takes,” Fletcher said. He said he often encourages people to come sit in on the meetings and learn more about the work the town officials are doing. He also praised the work of town personnel including the police department.

In other business during the meeting, a representative from Lifestore Insurance gave a brief presentation to the board about its insurance premiums. Two workers compensation claims last year did cause an increase in the premiums.

Mark Hobson and Chris Brown addressed the town board on Monday to request the town’s support for hosting a cruise-in event in late July. Hobson and Brown said they would do the legwork of planning and promoting the event and getting town businesses to support the effort if the town approved them to do so.

Hobson said the goal of the event is to bring in visitors to the town which could lead to additional revenue for town businesses. Bands, classic cars, food trucks and booths for charitable organizations such as the fire department’s ladies auxiliary were all things Hobson mentioned to be part of the event. He also noted the success of other small town cruise-ins such as the ones in Boonville and Pilot Mountain.

There was a lengthy discussion of logistics of the event including a discussion of possibly creating a business association in the future that could serve as host for such events.

Hobson said the event could be planned fairly quickly if given the board’s approval to do so.

Commissioner Matthews said he thought it was a great idea.

“I’d like to see it happen if we can make it work. I think anything we can do to help ourselves here in this town, I think we need to do it. We deserve that. We look after our people, they deserve it,” said Commissioner Larry Adams.

Matthews asked Hobson to return for the next board meeting to give an update on the planning process for the event.

The board approved renewal of its contract with CPA Charles Scott.

It also was noted that former Police Chief Ronnie Bowers resigned without notice. Officer T.J. Jones is serving as interim police chief. Around seven applications havebeen submitted for the position, and town leaders will be reviewing those candidates.

Jones gave a brief report to the board on incidents in town since last month. He reported there were several arrests, all of which were related to driving with revoked licenses.

The next meeting of the town board will take place on July 8 at Town Hall.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.

By Kitsey Burns Harrison