By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
PINETOPS — The board of commissioners stayed in line with surrounding towns by adopting its budget without implementing a property tax increase, although water and sewer rates increased by an average of 6.5 percent.
"It's a good budget, said Pinetops Mayor J. Vines Cobb. "There was no tax increase, so we are holding the line,"
According to the town's 2013-1014 budget message submitted by Town Administrator Gregory Bethea, the increase was part of a long-term plan to raise the rates yearly in small increments to keep up the town's investments in water and sewer lines and its water plant. Cobb said the increase was necessary but Pinetops water and sewer rates remain competitive lower than other towns.
"We had a citizen who moved to South Carolina about 10 years," Cobb said. "He told me that he is paying a tremendously high water bill down there. Even though we are raising ours, Pinetops water bills are still reasonable."
The $4.6 million budget is a decrease of $150,000 compared to last year. It is expected to continue the services at the same level as last year's, the message stated.
One of the highlights of the budget message was the collection rates. In 2012, the town reported a 93 percent property tax collection rate and an increase in past due tax collections. In the past, utility collections were short $30,000 before the end of the month. The improvement showed less than $10,000 in charges remaining to be paid at the end of the month.
The town's police department did not receive an increase but the budget message boasted about its work performance. Since adding an investigator position in 2009, "We have seen a major change in our ability to respond to crimes that occur," the message stated. Also, the number of unexplained court dismissals has gone down while the lengths of sentences have increased.
In 2014, the town will add four additional surveillance cameras that will be positioned throughout the community in areas of concerns.
"We will improve our efforts to collect our charges with the use of garnishments and the debt setoff program," the budget message stated. "We will continue to aggressively pursue criminals with the use of dedicated investigators surveillance cameras and undercover operations."
Employees will not get an increase in cost of living increase while the town's health insurance premium will increase to 20 percent. Last year, the town employees were given a cost of living increase and a 15 percent reduction in insurance rate. The town of Pinetops has 20 full time employees.
"The importance of having a small, but talented work force has proven vital for the town." the budget stated. "Ten years ago, the town had 21 full time employees. The town now has the equivalent of 20 full time employees. Since then, the town has added recycling, cemetery, street cleaning, and surveillance cameras. In addition, the amount of quality of all of our services have increased. The changes have been the results of improved equipment, technology and the hard working talented employees."