Backers of a long delayed $5.1 million 160-acre Nature Park in Apex are getting welcome news.
Out of a proposed five-cent tax rate increase, 1 cent would go to complete the Nature Park and the second phases of Seagroves Farm and Hunter Street parks.
If the budget is approved, $6 million in park bonds will be sold by early fall. Work at Seagroves and Hunter Street parks should be completed by early 2013. Some work at the Nature Park will get under way this fall and ramp up quickly in spring 2013, said Town Manager Bruce Radford.
Completion of the Nature Park has been delayed for several years due to the recession. Residents approved $13 million in parks and recreation bonds in 2003. Apex finished projects such as the community center expansion and Halle Cultural Arts Center renovation, but were unable to afford debt payments for the $6 million bonds for the Nature Park after the economy slowed. When voters approved the bonds in 2003, the council pledged not to raise property taxes to pay for the debt.
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However inflation, rising fuel costs and personnel needs now make a tax increase inevitable according to the council, and they’d like to see some of the money routed to finish the parks.
As part of the process, the council asked staff to review general fund expenses to look for more savings.
Staff reviewed the proposed personnel costs and came up with an additional $383,000 in savings. This would have allowed the council to reduce the proposed tax hike from five cents to four cents.
But, with recent public support to finish the long delayed Nature Park, the council on Tuesday recommended keeping the proposed tax rate increase at five cents.
Mayor Protem Gene Schulze cautioned against being “pennywise and pound foolish” about to the tax hike proposal.
“For the last three years we’ve done everything to live within our means,” said Schulze. “The last three years we’ve cut a lot of things that we’ve needed... as much as I hate to raise taxes I think it’s the right thing to do for Apex.”
The Nature Park will have athletic fields, outdoor tennis or volleyball courts, playground, extensive trail system with environmental education area, restrooms, small amphitheater, classrooms and a Frisbee golf course.
Plans for Phase 2 of the Hunter Street Park include a dog park, shelter/restroom facility and a playground. Phase 2 of Seagroves Farm Neighborhood Park at 201 Parkfield Drive includes a shelter, restroom facility and playground.
The Apex Town Council is expected to vote on the $34 million budget on June 19. If it passes, the tax rate would go from 34 cents to 39 cents for every $100 of assessed value. For a person with a $250,000 house the tax hike will mean $120 more a year.
About a dozen people spoke during a public hearing on the budget Tuesday. None spoke against the tax increase.
Former Apex Mayor Larry Jordan said the proposed tax rate hike was the cost of doing business and required to keep up with inflation and town needs.
“Anyone can readily see this can not be done without some increase in revenue,” Jordan said. “As one who has sat in your seat I know it’s a difficult decision but a right one.”
Apex’s official downtown ambassador J.C. Knowles said, “The tax increase you are considering is not really a tax, it’s an investment in the future of Apex.”
Resident Nicole Dozier, who works in the health care field said she supported the tax increase and the one-cent for the Nature Park.
“I figure you can pay now or pay later,” Dozier said, referring to health issues like obesity and heart disease.
She said when it was also important for teens and children to have a place to go.
“They can go down the street or play in the street. I prefer for my kids to play in the park,” Dozier said.
Resident Michael Davenport said he approved of the tax increase but not the nature park plan.
“I don’t agree the extra one cent should be used for (parks). It should be used for special needs,” said Davenport, who uses a wheelchair and has appeared before the council numerous times in the past few months asking the town to study special needs services.