Cary continues to be one of North Carolina’s safest and most prosperous towns, but it may face financial challenges this year if state legislators tamper with municipal revenue streams, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said Wednesday.
Weinbrecht’s remarks came during the annual State of the Town address held by the Cary Chamber of Commerce at Prestonwood Country Club. About 100 people attended.
Last year, the legislature stripped local governments of the ability to levy a privilege tax, a move that Weinbrecht said cost Cary about $1.7 million.
This year, state lawmakers may change the way sales tax revenues are distributed. A new redistribution method under consideration would give more money to the state’s poorer, more rural areas and less to bigger areas such as Cary that generate a large portion of the sales taxes.
“If it goes the way the talks are going, that could cost us $4 million,” Weinbrecht said. “Add those together, and it’s about $6 million in revenue – about 3 pennies on our tax rate – and that is significant.”
Weinbrecht mostly focused on good news. He noted that Cary continues to be ranked as one of the best places to live in the United States, while also being a leader in business recruitment.
Tech firm HCL American agreed in September to create 1,200 new jobs in Cary, and MetLife has hired 1,100 of the 1,400 employees it promised to hire in Cary as part of an expansion deal in 2013, he said.
The town’s growth and success are two reasons why Cary is able to maintain the lowest property tax rate in Wake County at 35 cents per $100 value, he said.
However, state lawmakers could endanger the quality of life in Cary if they cut town revenue streams without also creating new streams so that Cary can stay financially “whole,” he said.
“What the legislature needs to understand is, when we’re competing for businesses ... we’re not competing against small towns,” he said. “We’re competing against Austin, Texas. We’re competing against Nashville, (Tennessee).”
He urged the crowd to contact state legislators and help spread the message that Cary’s success doesn’t come at the expense of other N.C. towns.
“If you kill the golden goose, everybody loses,” he said.
“We’ve gotta get that message across, and we could use your help,” he said. “Let (state legislators) know that we don’t want to be at war with the rural communities. We want to work together, and if we work together we can bring businesses here for all of us.”
West Cary growing pains
Cary leaders also are likely to continue facing tough choices when considering rezoning requests in western Cary, Weinbrecht said.
West Cary is home to some of the town’s last swaths of undeveloped land, so builders continue to target the area.
Several of the schools in western Cary are crowded, and the Wake County school board recently announced plans to place enrollment caps next year on four area schools: Mills Park Elementary, Mills Park Middle, Davis Drive Middle and Panther Creek High.
Meanwhile, roads are often clogged during rush hour because there are no major east-to-west routes in the area that connect N.C. 54, N.C. 55 and N.C. 540.
Council members cited those growing pains in November when they delayed action on a request that would have allowed 130 homes on Wackena Road.
“We don’t want to stop the growth,” Weinbrecht said. “But we do have to take care of our infrastructure, and that’s what we’re looking at.”
Real estate agents such as Hannah Chan, a Realtor with Cary-Raleigh Realty, say crowded schools upset surrounding residents and sometimes make re-sales hard.
After Weinbrecht’s speech, Chan said she is glad to hear that town officials are in frequent contact with Wake County commissioners and the Wake County school board.
“It’s always good when the town and the mayor are willing to help,” she said.
Others in the audience, such as Chuck Norman, owner of S&A Communications, are happy to hear that Cary is committed to economic development.
“As long as we’re bringing more businesses into town, we’re all gonna do better,” Norman said.