Town leaders want to find a way to pay for improvements at the Morrisville Parkway-Carpenter Upchurch Road intersection and two park projects in the upcoming budget.
They’re not currently included in the $295 million budget that Cary Town Manager Ben Shivar recently proposed for fiscal year 2015-16. The draft spending plan includes more than $21 million in funding for about 50 capital projects around Cary.
The capital projects part of the proposed budget was the topic of discussion May 19 at the first of three budget-related work sessions.
The capital projects spending plan focuses heavily on roads and infrastructure improvements, with $10 million slated for transportation projects. Their size and cost ranges from $30,000 to relocate some crosswalk buttons to $6 million for various street improvement projects.
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Meanwhile, the list of projects left out of the budget is nearly three times as long and totals $898 million in desired work.
Shivar’s proposed budget includes a 3-cent property tax increase, marking the first time since 1990 that Cary might raise its property tax for a reason other than repaying voter-approved debt.
Two of the cents would pay for debt associated with bonds sold after Cary voters approved a bond referendum in 2012. Shivar proposed the additional cent to compensate for the loss of revenues generated by the privilege tax, which the N.C. General Assembly recently forbid municipalities from using. It’s estimated Cary would lose $1.5 million, and the 1-cent increase would generate $2.2 million, Shivar has said.
During the work session, the Town Council identified three projects totaling $1.3 million that they want to execute in the upcoming fiscal year.
They want to spend $1.2 million to remove the medians at the intersection of Morrisville Parkway and Carpenter Upchurch Road, which includes a railroad crossing. The medians currently restrict some traffic movements at the intersection. For example, cars traveling east on Morrisville Parkway cannot turn left to go north on Carpenter Upchurch Road.
Council members said they also want to spend $75,000 on the town’s first “pocket park” at 601 Kildaire Farm Road and $25,000 to add a large shade structure at Ritter Park. Residents have complained that the playground sometimes gets too hot for children to use in summer months, council members said.
Shivar didn’t recommend funding the three projects for the next fiscal year, which starts in July and ends in June 2016, because the town has more pressing needs.
But council members said the projects merit attention because of the feedback they’ve heard from residents.
Many western Cary residents have complained about the traffic pattern at the Morrisville Parkway-Carpenter Upchurch Road intersection, Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said. Some Morrisville Parkway drivers will drive through the median where the railroad tracks cross to get to Carpenter Upchurch Road.
“That was an expensive mistake,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said, referring to the installation of medians years ago.
The town should address the two park projects, Councilman Jack Smith said, because they’re simple, relatively cheap fixes that could make a dramatic difference. Parks and recreation projects, which make up $3.4 million of the proposed $21 million capital budget, are often the most visible and popular uses of taxpayer dollars, he said.
“That’s how they relate to the town,” Smith said of residents judging the town’s progress. “When you have these, and they’re of that amount, I think you should try to find a way to fund them.”
That’s where things get tricky.
Cary will likely need to spend more of its general fund budget, borrow money or remove other items from the capital projects budget in order to fund the three projects.
Council members seemed to have different funding preferences during the May 19 meeting. Robinson said she’d be willing to use some of the $1.6 million in planned sidewalk improvements on the intersection and park projects instead.
Councilman Don Frantz balked at that idea, saying some residents expect to see those sidewalk improvements next year.
“I could entertain pulling some money out of the general fund to do this,” Frantz said.
Some residents might frown on the town spending more than the recommended amount while also raising property taxes, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
At the end of the meeting, council members asked town staff to investigate which funding strategy would be least detrimental to the town.
Cary staff plans to present its findings to council members at a work session on June 11, according to Karl Knapp, the town’s budget director.
Budget work sessions are scheduled June 11 at 4:30 p.m. and June 16 at 6 p.m. The budget is scheduled to be adopted June 25 at 6:30 p.m.