Proposed Raleigh budget keeps tax rate, adds 40 jobs

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 21, 2013 

  • Raleigh’s budget at a glance

    • No property tax increase

    • No trash fee increase

    • $3.74 increase per month for utilities in the average household

    • 40 new positions

    • 3 percent employee merit raises

    • $148.6 million in construction projects

    • $705.23 million in total spending

  • Arts groups seek more funding

    Raleigh leaders are considering a proposal to increase the level of arts funding provided by the city.

    Currently, the city offers grants to nonprofit arts groups at a rate of $4.50 per Raleigh resident, for about $1.5 million a year. The Raleigh Arts Commission wants to raise that to $5 per resident, which would generate $1.87 million in the next fiscal year.

    Raleigh arts director Gerald Bolas said in a memo that the current rate “can no longer sustain our evolving arts community.” The $5 proposal, he says, “is an essential first step for realizing the city council’s vision for Raleigh to become ‘The Southern Capital of Arts and Culture.’”

    Arts groups’ grant requests for the coming fiscal year total $1.87 million, creating a shortfall of $354,000. The city council will discuss the possible increase in budget workshops next month.

— As Raleigh continues to recover from the recession, City Manager Russell Allen’s proposed budget keeps property taxes steady while increasing utility bills, adding 40 new positions and giving employees a 3 percent raise.

Allen unveiled his budget to the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday. A public hearing and further discussion is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 4 at City Hall.

The budget for fiscal year 2013-14 totals $705.23 million in spending. Up from $679 million this past year, it’s the highest in city history and a reflection of its growth.

“This is the first time we’ve exceeded a $700 million budget,” Allen told the council.

The primary change Raleigh residents will notice on their bills is a 14 percent increase in sewer rates. That represents a $3.74 monthly increase for the average household. That includes a hike in water and sewer administrative fees by 92 cents a month.

The administrative fees aim to cover 5 percent of the utility system’s debt payments. Overall, the hikes would generate an additional $13.9 million in revenue. With infrastructure improvements alone, the city’s debt service will increase $8 million in the coming fiscal year. Those upgrades are projected to cost $417.3 million over the next five years.

Trash fees, stormwater fees and business privilege license fees would all stay the same.

Employees can look forward to a 3 percent merit pay increase depending on their annual performance reviews. That’s projected to cost the city $5.9 million.

Last year’s merit raise was $1,000, and in 2011 city workers got a $500 one-time bonus in an effort to save money.

40 new positions

Allen recommends creating 40 new positions – a big change after lean years in which 72 jobs were cut. Fourteen of those would staff new park facilities set to open in the next year, including the Halifax Community Center and the new interpretative center at Mordecai Historic Park.

The budget would also add five employees in 911 communications, two fire marshals, three GIS workers, two planning and zoning employees and an additional city attorney. Other new hires will work in public utilities and other departments.

Allen calls for spending $148.6 million in the next fiscal year on new facilities, infrastructure upgrades and other major projects. Among the highlights:

• $26 million to renovate the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and maintain the Raleigh Convention Center

• $8 million to replace two aging fire stations on Poole Road and Lake Boone Trail

• $1.5 million to renovate two little-used plazas at the center of Fayetteville Street on each side of the old Wachovia building

The spending is made possible in part by sales and property tax revenues that have finally returned to pre-recession levels.

“We are just now beginning to dig out of the greatest recession I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Allen said.

Allen’s budget proposal will likely see plenty of tweaks before it becomes official in late June. In addition to the public hearing, the council has scheduled four budget workshops in June, the final month of Allen’s employment with the city after the council voted in April to hire new leadership. His last day as city manager will be June 30.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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