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$78M spending plan proposed, no tax increase

Retirement, construction costs limit staff growth

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WAKE FOREST — Wake Forest Town Manager Kip Padgett on Tuesday unveiled a proposed annual budget that would absorb unexpected costs associated with employee retirement while maintaining the town’s tax and utility rates.

The proposed $78.34 million 2019-2020 budget would, if adopted by town commissioners next month, be an increase in spending of 6.7 percent from projected expenditures during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

That is balanced by similar growth in projected revenues, including property and sales tax, as the town’s population continues to grow at an average rate of 2,000 people a year.

Padgett, presenting his spending proposal to commissioners Tuesday evening, emphasized that there would be no need to change the town’s property tax rate, which is currently 52 cents for every $100 in assessed value.

Most of the budget would pay for electric service (28.9 percent), public safety (22.9 percent), debt service (8.6 percent) and parks and recreation (5.2 percent).

Here are some takeaways from the proposed budget:

Tax rate stays

If the property tax rate does not change, as Padgett recommended, a homeowner would continue to pay $520 in tax to the town on a $100,000 home.

Of the 52-cent tax rate, 41 cents would go toward the town and the other 11 cents would pay for contracted fire services.

With an estimated tax base of $5.66 billion in the town, property tax would generate about $29 million in revenue. Sales tax, fees and the sale of electricity are among the other largest revenue sources.

A special additional tax of 14 cents per $100 of property will remain unchanged for properties in the downtown municipal service district.

Electric rates would be unchanged as well.

Commissioners did not immediately comment on any concerns or changes they may want to make to the budget proposal over the next month. But Mayor Vivian Jones at the meeting said it was “pretty good news” that a tax increase is not recommended.

“Anytime we do not have to raise taxes is a good thing,” Commissioner Anne Reeve said Wednesday. “We strive to be prudent with the people’s money (something state and federal governments don’t always).”

Moving projects forward

A major goal of the current year’s budget was to begin or complete several construction projects authorized by commissioners or voters in a 2014 bond referendum, Padgett said. Holding Park pool, Joyner Park Community Center, an expansion to the Northern Wake Senior Center, downtown streetscape, the Stadium Drive Complete Street project and others were among those prioritized.

Those funds will contribute to $6.7 million in debt service in next year’s budget. Padgett said that amount remains within the town’s policy, but will limit the ability of the town to borrow funds in future years.

Padgett is also proposing taking $2.19 million from fund balance — the town’s “rainy day” fund — mostly for new one-time projects. A total of $3.63 million is budgeted for capital projects over the next year, including $800,000 for improvements to electricity infrastructure and $705,000 for public safety vehicles. Other projects include sewer infrastructure and improvements to the Flaherty Dog Park that community members have requested.

Little staff growth

As the town’s population has grown, so has the number of employees working for the town. Over the last three budget cycles, the town added 31 positions, including 14 last year at the police department.

But this coming year, Padgett said there is little extra money to add staff to the town’s payrolls. Departments asked for 20 new positions, but Padgett is recommending creating only six of those jobs this year, despite admitting that most all of the requested positions would be justified.

“We are living within our means,” Padgett said. “We just couldn’t fund them this year.”

The six new positions that would be created are those that are absolutely needed, such as two staffers for Joyner Park Community Center when that project finishes this summer. He also said a new three-member crew in the electric department will be required.

Debt service is one factor limiting the number of new positions the town can afford.

The N.C. Department of State Treasurer also adjusted its estimates of what local municipalities will need to contribute to the Local Government Employees Retirement System in order to keep that fund solvent. Wake Forest will need to contribute $200,000 more than previously expected, Padgett said. This may continue to have a large impact on future budgets, he added.

There will be no increases in health insurance premiums.

Community input

Commissioners are expected to adopt a budget for the next fiscal year at its June 18 meeting. The board will hold a public hearing on the manager’s proposed budget May 21.

The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. at the commissioner’s chamber of town hall, 301 S. Brooks St.

Residents can view a copy of the budget at town hall, or online at wakeforestnc.gov.

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