Staff presents budget draft with small tax increase

kjahner@newsobserver.comMay 2, 2014 

— – Garner’s staff unveiled to council Tuesday a proposed $26.6 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, a proposal that includes a one-cent property tax increase to fund emergency servcies including three new firefighters.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at Monday’s regular council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. The council will pore over the proposal and factor in public suggestions from that meeting before discussing the budget at a special work session Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Council members were “not jumping up and down” about the penny increase, as Gra Singleton put it. But with revenue growing slower than expenses this year and a fire agency limping along, it appears the town will need the estimated $297,000 the tax will generate to balance the budget.

“It’s our job now to vet and review and thoroughly investigate all of the numbers, and validate the recommendation of the tax rate increase,” Councilman Buck Kennedy said.

The increase represents an additional $17 tax for the median home in Garner, which is valued at $170,000.

In addition to the tax to boost emergency services, the town is also planning to reorganize staff leadership to allow for more forward planning. The finance staff also put together a plan to address demand for new town vehicles that was pent up by the recession, leaving multiple departments with rapidly aging fleets.

“We’re trying not to go year-to-year but develop a program where we’re looking many years ahead,” finance director Emily Lucas said.

Revenues grew by 1.7 percent, triggering a payment to the revenue savings plan to the tune of $46,000. The plan, passed last year, calls for a portion of any revenue above one percent to be set aside to offset capital spending on bond projects.

But various needs have driven some costs up. The town has assembled a vehicle and equipment replacement team to assess and plan replacements for a backlog of vehicles and technology replacements unaddressed because of recession-related revenue slides. Kennedy acknowledged that need, but also cited it as an area he’d look closely at to ensure the replacements needed to be made.

Adding to the crunch, much of the new development growing the town will not show up in tax revenues this coming year, while town personnel and resources are streetched by increased permitting and monitoring of both private develpment and bond projects.

The budget includes new staff members for planning and public works for such reasons. An assistant planning director would allow for more long-term planning, and new part-time staffers would help planning with landscaping regulation and public works with building inspections, respectively.

“We lost some (planning) positions when the economy went down,” Singleton said. “There’s going to be a lot of projects over the next two or three years.”

Another personnel discussion in the mix that the town budgeted some extra funds for include a second assistant town manager-level position that would directly oversee multiple department heads, allowing staff leaders including the town manager more ability to expend more effort on long-term planning, bond project management and developing external relationships.

Those proposed positions, which have been only formally proposed through this budget process, will be among the thing the council considers; members were noncommittal Tuesday.

But the increases for emergency services seem to have reached acceptance. Most of the tax increase will fund an increase to the fire budget to fund positions Fire Chief Matt Poole has called necessary to staff his stations without continuing to use substantial overtime hours.

“I’m in favor (of adding the firefighters),” Kennedy said. “I don’t see any changes to the budget that would jeopardize that proposal.”

The county, which pays for roughly 45 percent of the independent agency’s budget, would not increase its contribution, leaving Garner the decision to fund the new positions and some other equipment needs. The county is re-examining its fire tax and funding mechanisms.

The new positions will be funded to start in January, halfway through the fiscal year. The tax increase will also help toward some police needs this year before covering exclusively fire in future years.

“We can’t wait on the county any longer,” Singleton said. “It’s unfortunate that this is the only way.”

Police Station

Also at the Tuesday work session, ADW Architects presented its final plans for the new police station. But the county dashed hopes the project would be put out for bids this week, pushing the project back at least two weeks.

The county needs to approve the transfer of part of the Wake County Southeast Regional Library parking lot to the town, and a county staff contact had led the town to believe the move would be made at the May 5 county commissioners meeting without complications.

But Watkins said questions arose up the food chain. He said it was unclear to the town whether staff leaders or the commissioners had raised questions that punted the issue from the agenda. That means the transfer can’t happen and bids won’t be put out until at least May 19.

“We think we’ve got them resolved,” Watkins said of the questions.

The council seemed satisfied with the progression of plans on the police station, which will be built into the former medical office buildings on Seventh Avenue between Forest Hills shopping center and the library.

“Everyone seems on board, the council seems to be on board,” Watkins said.

Google Huts

The town council directed staff to make an agreement with Google to use town land for the Google Huts needed for its new Google Fiber network. The base agreement notes that huts are about 28 feet by 12 feet. Google will need one or two of the devices in Garner. The sites have not been determined; they will be “mutually agreeable” and typically are located in out-of-the-way town properties.

The town indicated to Google a lease price of $2 per square foot, to which Google “did not react adversely” according to assistant town manager Rodney Dickerson.

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

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