The property tax rate in Apex will remain the same next year, and there aren’t plans to raise solid waste or water fees in the $43 million budget proposed Thursday.
Officials have proposed several changes to benefit town employees, including a merit-based raise, attempts to lure businesses to town and to free up spending money without increasing taxes.
The council will debate the proposals further at its next public meeting Tuesday, June 2, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Apex spent a little more than $41 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30. With revenue increasing entirely from growth, there are no plans to raise taxes or fees.
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The tax rate would remain at 39 cents per $100 in valuation, if the budget is approved.
The council gave a unanimous preliminary vote of support Thursday but asked for one change to get even more revenue – to lower Apex’s fund balance from 30 percent to 20 percent.
The state only requires municipalities to keep 8 percent of their funds held in reserve.
“I think it’s wrong for the town to sit on money,” Council member Bill Jensen said.
Town staff said the reduction would free up millions of dollars in spending money without affecting the town’s AAA bond rating or its ability to respond to potential emergencies.
Mayor Pro Tem Gene Schulze said while he’s somewhat concerned about undertaking future emergency spending with a reduced reserve, he nonetheless supported the plan.
“I’d be in favor of using it for something tangible, like road improvements,” he said.
The town already has announced plans, separate from the budget proposal, for a $15 million bond referendum on November’s ballot to complete Apex Peakway.
The bond wouldn’t force a tax hike, but the town has tentative plans for another bond in the next year or two for new parks. If voters approve both bonds, property tax rates would likely rise.
Currently, Apex has the third-lowest property tax rate in Wake County. Fuquay-Varina’s is 38.5 cents with no plans for an increase. Cary’s is 35 cents, with plans to increase to 38 cents next year.
Personnel concerns, raises
Town Manager Bruce Radford presented the budget to the council, including a merit-based pay raise for town employees that would average out to 3.6 percent per employee.
Lassiter praised the raise proposal but said he also wanted town staff to try to enhance employee benefits. During the recession the town made cuts and raised deductibles by $1,000, and Lassiter said it’s time to reexamine those choices as well.
“I don’t want to give the false impression of pay raises,” he said.
Council member Nicole Dozier agreed, saying the town needs to remain competitive in hiring with Raleigh and Cary, the only larger towns in Wake County.
One staff member at Thursday’s meeting said one Apex employee took a job with the City of Raleigh, largely because Raleigh offers better benefits for dependents.
Mayor Bill Sutton, who doesn’t vote on the budget, had a different concern about personnel. The Apex Police Department’s budget has grown by $2 million in the last two years, which Sutton – a former Apex Town manager – said is puzzling.
No other department has grown by nearly as much. The police department is by far the town’s biggest expense. In next year’s proposed $43 million budget, the police are recommended to receive $9.8 million. The town’s next biggest expense is the $6.8 million fire department.
The proposed budget includes funds to hire four new police employees, as well as 16 new vehicles equipped with cameras. The fire department budget includes funds for 12 new firefighters.
No other council members expressed concerns.
Cost to residents
Sutton said with the planned hiring of a total of 27 new employees, the staff is growing twice as fast as the town’s overall population. The new positions will cost the town an estimated annual expense of $1.4 million.
But Radford said Apex still has one of the area’s most efficient ratios of employees to residents. It also has a relatively low cost of living.
Radford presented a chart that combined residential property taxes and various fees to show what some municipalities charge their residents.
Out of all 12 Wake County towns, plus Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Wilmington and Winston-Salem, only three towns charge a typical resident less in taxes and fees.
“People that live in Apex get a big bang for their buck,” Radford said.
Morrisville was the lowest, at $1,490.88 per capita. Charlotte was next, due to its size, followed by Fayetteville and Apex, $1,573.52 a year.
On the other end of the spectrum were Wendell, Wilmington and Zebulon, where the typical resident pays the local government more than $2,000 in taxes and fees each year.
Not included in those calculations was another fee, charged only to developers, based on the acreage of their projects.
Jensen suggested raising that fee and using the extra revenue to build water and sewer lines to undeveloped land as an incentive to businesses to locate in Apex.
“We’ve discussed this with our consultants,” said Jensen, who chairs the council’s economic development committee. “We need places for businesses to land, and we don’t have a lot of that.”
Both Lassiter and Schulze, however, questioned the plan. Lassiter invoked Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” calling Jensen’s plan “water to nowhere.”
Radford said staff would look into the acreage fee issue after finishing the budget, coming back with possible plans for the council to debate in the first week of July.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran