Next year’s Clayton budget will keep the lights on but not much else. The town’s big-future plans landed mostly on the cutting room floor, meaning park development and a Main Street makeover will have to wait.
In his first budget as town manager, Adam Lindsay is recommending a $51.2 million spending plan, about $2 million below last year’s budget, which was heavy with capital project funding. Lindsay is recommending $21.3 million for town operating costs, a drop of about $80,000. The town manager presented his budget last week just to town council members and a few high-level town employees.
Lindsay has no tax hike in next year’s budget, though with growing rooftops and steady store receipts, he expects property and sales tax revenues to grow by about $1 million. Those increases will go a long way toward funding 14 jobs added halfway through the 2016-17 fiscal year. Those jobs added $1 million to the budget in recurring costs, and Clayton paid for them partially with $500,000 from the town’s cash reserves.
“That was a significant impact on what we might be able to do with any revenue gains,” Lindsay said of the jobs added last year. “I’m not sure how many positions were requested last year, but when we went through and looked at the numbers, we ultimately realized we couldn’t do anything close to that.”
Clayton department heads asked for 13 new positions, but Lindsay recommends adding just three, an accountant position added back after being lost in the recession, a crew supervisor in the electricity department and an assistant public works director. The three add up to around $150,000 worth of salaries.
The proposed budget has few big-ticket items in this year’s budget, though downtown drivers might appreciate the $800,000 going to repave Fayetteville and Horne streets. Next year’s budget includes 2.5 percent cost-of-living and 1 percent merit raises for town employees, together totaling more than $400,000. More than a year after the town’s first and so far only neighborhood meeting, Clayton plans $27,250 in improvements for the Cooper neighborhood. Also included are $745,000 worth of new town vehicles, new parking downtown and the green light for the disc golf course at East Clayton Community Park.
Lindsay seems to have built some urgency into this year’s budget by excluding many of the items council members have long talked but have not yet pursued with vigor. Parks work, a Main Street makeover and a possible stage downtown are all blue-chip line items kept out of this year’s funding, gone but not forgotten.
The proposed design work for Clayton’s streetscape project is left out of this year’s budget but caused some sticker shock at $375,000. Instead, the town will pay $40,000 for a Main Street master plan, which might sound familiar, as the town did something similar a decade ago. Lindsay said the town needs to come up with a clear plan to renovate downtown before spending six figures.
“It felt very piecemeal to me, and I was concerned about making those decisions without a broader vision,” Lindsay said.
Councilman Bob Satterfield said he’s happy to fund another study but not if it’s going to be another binder on a shelf.
“The only way I can support spending $40,000 for another study that is liable to get put on the shelf like the rest of them is a plan to implement whatever they come up with,” Satterfield said. “ I can’t stand coming up with a plan and it being stuck over here.”
Perhaps the same could be said for future parks work in Clayton. A grand parks plan is in the eventual pipeline for property near the Neuse River, but anything like that is years in the future and millions of dollars away. Clayton is now struggling to fund the upkeep of its existing parks properties, and Lindsay recommended cutting more than $500,000 worth of improvements at East Clayton Community Park and $200,000 for new lights at Legend Park.
At last year’s council retreat, Lindsay said renovating existing town parks could be around $1 million. Mayor Jody McLeod said the less used downtown parks might not warrant significant money for renovations until the town has a better idea of their future.
“We need to take some time to look at Legend Park,” McLeod said. “It is some utilized, but it’s still underutilized. I don’t really want us to jump out there and put a couple hundred thousand dollars for lights until we figure out what is the plan for that space. The more residential we have growing on City Road, we need to look at Legend and the best way to optimize what we have.”
Lindsay also cut about $90,000 reserved for prepping a site on which Clayton could build a permanent stage on Town Square. Councilman Michael Grannis said he supports putting a stage in the park that host summer concerts and Christmas tree lightings but wants to see the town do more than spin its wheels.
“Is this just a pipe dream for us is, or is it something we’re serious about?” he said.
McLeod argued a downtown stage is vital to the identity Clayton has created for itself. “It’s essential to the long-term goal,” he said. “We just need to figure out the financing and the getting it there, because we have so many other demands too.”
Lindsay argued Clayton’s current Town Square model of working with contractors who put up and take down stages for events offers annual flexibility and predictability that might outweigh the control of paying for a permanent stage
“Once you get to the permanent stage, there’s maintenance, there’s liability, there’s staffing,” Lindsay said. “If we’re talking about a true permanent spot, one of the concerns I have is (with Clayton growing), where are we going to put a stage that’s going to meet our needs 10 years from now?”
A public hearing on the budget will be held later this month before the council town adopts it in late May or early June.