The Wilkesboro Town Council on Monday unanimously approved the town’s budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The approval came during the council’s regular monthly meeting at Wilkesboro Town Hall. No comments were made during the public hearing that preceded the vote.

The approved budget leaves the property tax rate unchanged at 48 cents per $100 of property valuation. This equates to a $720 tax bill for a property owner who has real property of $150,000.

The budget total is $18.590 million for all town operations, capital improvements and debt service, which represents a 17.7% increase of the current year’s budget.

The budget includes expected revenues of $8.657 million in the general fund and $9.933 million in the water and sewer fund. Expenditures in both these funds would be the same.

To fund long-term capital water projects, the town is planning to implement another 7.5% residential and commercial water and sewer rate hike on Oct. 1. Two such rate hikes occurred in 2020, each increasing the base residential bill by $1.03 a month.

Residential customers using an average of 5,000 gallons of water a month will receive a combined water and sewer bill of $29.58 per month, according to Bob Urness, the town’s assistant town manager and director of finance. That compares to an average water/sewer bill of $80 across the state, he noted.

Urness said a general fund balance appropriation of $347,000 to achieve a balanced budget would leave the town’s unassigned fund balance at $2.098 million, or 24% of the recommended general fund budget of $8.657 million. Town policy requires that it be 20-40%.

The budget includes a 3% across-the-board cost of living pay hike for town employees. A 2.5% pay raise had been approved for town workers every year since 2016.

Wastewater plant upgrade

Also on Monday, the council approved the engineering process by which the town’s wastewater plant, which is currently operating at or near capacity, will be upgraded in coming years.

After hearing a preliminary engineering report by Dave Saunders of Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Inc., the council unanimously supported his recommendation of the proprietary AquaNereda Aerobic Granular Sludge (AGS) filtration process.

Saunders said the installation of the AGS infrastructure would probably cost $47.9 million. Urness, in a council work session earlier Monday, said the project could be comfortably funded by the town’s recent and future utility rate hikes.

Saunders said he recommended AGS over two other methods because it offered the lowest operational and maintenance costs and better resiliency. He added that it would be installed by a well-established company that offered process and information technology support 24/7.

The council also approved the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) delivery model for the project. Public Works Director Sam Call said CMAR “gives us more control” of the build process compared to other models.

Call added that he supported AGS because it was the “most efficient and most easily expandable” filtration process.

Saunders said HDR’s next step would be to create an early design package that would include a site survey and common equipment to be used during the upgrade. It will likely be 18 to 24 months until ground is broken for the project.

Other matters

Also on Monday, the council:

• approved use of the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons by the High Country Chapter of Guardians of the Children on Sunday, July 18, for a bike and car show that would generate funds to raise awareness of child abuse in the area and benefit families that have been impacted by such abuse; and

• approved the rezoning of a portion of parcel 2202381 at 106 East Main Street from R6 (general residence) to B1 (central business). Mike and Erin Vanderploeg made the request so that they can convert the relocated Bella Rose Cottage antique shop (the historic Cowles Law Office building) to a cocktail lounge.

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