Hoping to avoid higher taxes, two Clayton residents on Monday asked town leaders to revisit their 2015-16 spending plan.
Town Manager Steve Biggs has proposed raising Clayton’s property-tax rate by 2.5 cents, a change that would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $50 a year. Biggs has said the increase is needed mostly to offset higher health-insurance premiums and the loss of privilege-license fees.
But rather than raising taxes, town residents Jonathan Quick and Jerry Gay asked if the town could save money by cutting several line items from the budget. Quick and Gay were the only residents who spoke during a public hearing on the proposed budget.
To every question, Biggs or a town councilman had a response. They defended the planned outlays every time.
Quick, who lives in Riverwood, asked why the town needed the 10 new full-time positions included in next year’s budget. He pointed out that a couple of the jobs are for administrative support, including positions for the public information office and the planning department.
“Are those people really mission critical?” Quick said. “Is it necessary to increase my taxes so you can bring these types of resources to bare in the budget?”
Biggs said they were. For instance, he said the town’s public information officer, Stacy Beard, spends an inordinate amount of time updating social media accounts and answering calls from the public. Support for her office, Biggs said, would allow Beard to spend less time on those administrative tasks and more time educating the public at neighborhood or homeowners’ association meetings.
Councilman Bob Satterfield and Mayor Jody McLeod also noted that the town cut 10 jobs during the recession. “Now, we’re back on our feet and making up for lost time,” McLeod said.
During his comments, Quick also questioned new vehicle purchases and $5,000 on furniture for the library director’s office. Biggs said the library director is currently using her own furniture in her office.
“I hope that you’ll take some time and really go back and really scrutinize this budget one more time and ask the question, ‘Is this stuff mentioned really mission critical?’” Quick said. “If it isn’t, don’t tax me for it.”
Gay, who lives in Glen Laurel, questioned Clayton’s health-insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
The town will spend about $217,000 more on health insurance for employees next year, a spike Biggs has attributed to several large, recent claims.
The town also got a quote from Aetna, which would have been cheaper than Blue Cross Blue Shield. However, Clayton felt uncomfortable changing providers.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s rate is increasing because it expects the town’s medical claims to remain higher than they have been. If that plays out and the town’s large claims continue, Biggs said, a different provider won’t be as prepared to offer the same amount of coverage.
“When it came time to renew with that new provider, we would be looking at an even larger increase because they would need to make up for the losses,” Biggs said.
Also, if the town switched companies and it didn’t work out, that might scare other providers away from doing business with Clayton, he said.
Gay, who said he’s lived in Clayton for about a year, went door to door in Glen Laurel to try to recruit neighbors to talk at the public hearing. He said he was disappointed in the turnout.
“Would you people please review what you are trying to do?” Gay said to the council. “There are a lot of people who can’t afford a tax increase.”
The Town Council is expected to adopt the budget on June 15.
One change is the removal of $20,000 to pave the parking lot at the town’s dog park on Glen Laurel Road. To view the budget in its entirety, go to www.townofclaytonnc.org and click on “Mayor and Council” then “Annual Reports and Budgets.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104