The North Wilkesboro commissioners unanimously approved a $9.95 million town budget for fiscal 2020-21 in a 13-minute virtual meeting Wednesday evening.

It was held as a continuation of a meeting with a public hearing on the budget Tuesday. The hearing was recessed for 24 hours to allow more time for public comments on the budget, but none were made at any time during the hearing period.

Under a new state law addressing virtual meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, public comments had to be in writing.

The new budget is 1.4% less than the prior year’s budget. Town Manager Wilson Hooper called it a very conservative budget with little capital spending, no cuts in public services and operations running “on the razor’s edge.”

The property tax rate remains 52 cents per $100 valuation in the new budget, but it includes higher water and sewer rates.

It calls for increasing the water/sewer rate 2% each year for the next five years for residential customers within the town’s corporate limits. This equates to the average in-town residential water bill increasing by $1.15 a month in the first year.

It increases wholesale water rates by 9 cents per 1,000 gallons in fiscal 2020-21 and again in fiscal 2021-22 for the four water associations. This would result in wholesale water rates of $2.19 per 1,000 gallons next year and $2.28 the year afterward.

Commissioner Debbie Ferguson thanked Hooper and department heads for their work on the budget, noting “they had to go back to the drawing board after the COVID-19 crisis began. With their foresight they decreased the budget to try and prepare for the changes we’ll be seeing in tax revenues.”

Hooper predicted a 10% reduction in the town’s sales tax revenue for FY21, amounting to about $160,000 less. Interest income is predicted to fall by $140,000. “Between all those drops in revenue, we predict about 4% lower than what we’re collecting this year—and that’s being hopeful,” said Hooper earlier.

Art gallery lease

Also on Tuesday, the board extended the lease of a town-owned building at 913 C Street to the Wilkes Art Gallery.

The gallery will continue leasing the building from the town for $1 per year, the same rate as the past 20 years. “The low-cost lease is an acknowledgment of the importance of art to the civic character and economy of the town,” said Hooper.

The town continues to clean and maintain the facility. Hooper said that he and Ashley Barton, the gallery’s executive director, discussed possible capital improvements to the gallery needed over the next 10 years.

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