Town expects small tax increase to fill tax hole

kjahner@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

— As the town of Garner trudges toward a balanced budget, staff has proposed a one-cent tax increase to make up for inefficient vehicle tax collection and necessary emergency services and vehicle replacement expenses.

The tax increase proposed at Monday’s council meeting would represent $17 for the average home in Garner, which is valued at $170,000. Garner Finance Director Emily Lucas said the tax would likely be ongoing and in addition to the 2.75 cent projected increase expected to start in 2015 to help fund the $35.7 million bond passed in March 2013.

“I think right now, we’re getting toward getting set in stone on that,” Lucas said of the need for the revenue.

The budget team has reduced an initial $1.9 million gap between requested budget and projected 2014-15 revenue by $1.4 million. A one-cent tax increase would cut the resulting $490,642 gap to $125,542 as the team continues to work toward shaving line items.

The town saw revenue roughly flatline from last year. While it expects significant growth in the tax base, much of that growth is slated to come onto the books as revenue not in 2014-15 but the year after.

“We do have a lot of good news coming. It just didn’t show up by January 1 of this year. I think we’re all ready to jump. We just have to take a baby step,” Lucas said.

In addition to slow real estate tax growth, the state’s new Tax & Tag program that allows the Department of Transportation to collect vehicle taxes along with vehicle registration has initially resulted in lowered collection rates.

“It’s overwhelming and a travesty against people who pay their bills,” Garner Council member Buck Kennedy said of the delinquent payments at the meeting. “I am hoping the legislature is paying attention to this snafu and the unintended consequences.”

Lucas agreed, saying that staff also has been frustrated by the shortfalls. Initially in the 50s, the collection rates have improved, but only to about 61 percent. Wake County typically maintained collection rates around 80 percent, Lucas said.

And even if kinks are worked out, Lucas can’t project a collection rate higher than what was collected since the program launched in October. The difference between projecting 61 percent and 80 percent collection is $190,000 less projectable revenue.

Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue has requested three additional personnel hires for consecutive years. With the county reluctant to increase its share of the fire budget, the town may have to decide whether to pick up the tab on that and some other needs requested by the independent agency.

The police have requested police radios, in-car cameras, radar units and SRT (Special Reaction Team) gear. The town also has a backlog of vehicles that need to be purchased, with that replacement schedule pushed back by the recession.

Town staff didn’t request specific guidance just yet.

“We’re still working on this,” Lucas said.

Council member Gra Singleton said a public hearing should be held if a tax increase proved necessary.

Greenfield Apartments approved

The council unanimously approved the special use permit for the proposed apartment complex on Greenfield Parkway at U.S. 70.

Neighboring industrial landowners led by Golden State Foods had opposed the project, but the developer worked to address enough of thier concerns that they dropped their objections.

Council member Ken Marshburn said he had some concerns about public safety elements brought forward, but in a quasi-judicial hearing conducted after most objections had been overcome he said the developer had made a good case that the project fit the town’s ordinances and growth priorities.

Most concerns hinged on the safety of turns onto and off of Greenfield Parkway, a road frequently used by trucks taking goods to and from the industrial residents of the road, which dead-ends into Golden Gate’s factory.

Town Hall to be new, not fixed

After limited discussion at the meeting, Garner’s town council expressed agreement to building the $7.5 million bond-funded town hall from the ground up rather than renovating the existing structure.

Kennedy said a contractor could end up devoting valuable resources to salvaging what it could of a renovated structure. Other council members also pointed out that starting fresh could allow them to tailor the design to current needs and allow for planning for future one.

WakeMed Garner rolling

WakeMed presented facts and figures regarding its Garner HealthPlex, which opened in August.

In the first six months, the emergency facility recorded 8,083 visits, with a quarter of those visits by children 17-and-under. Carolyn Knaup, senior vice presidnet of ambulatory services and physician operations also noted the new presence of physician practices including primary care doctors as well as ear-nose-throat, urology and cardiology specialists.

“A community is not complete without a hospital,” Mayor Ronnie Williams said.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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