Facing another round of tight finances, Zebulon staff proposed Wednesday that the town appropriate a large chunk of its savings to balance its budget for the 2016 fiscal year.
By doing so, early signs are that the town will avoid raising property taxes for the upcoming year.
“You never want to have to do that,” said Finance Director Bobby Fitts, “but the amount we’re appropriating this year is about half of what we appropriated last year, so we feel pretty good about that.”
By Fitts’ estimates, the town is in no danger of violating one of its own policies by assigning $373,330 from its general fund to even out the spending plan.
The policy requires Zebulon to keep at least 50 percent of a year’s expenditures in savings. If the town ends up using $200,000 in savings in the current fiscal year as Fitts expects, and if it uses all of the appropriated savings in the upcoming year as proposed, the savings percentage would drop from 70 to 64 percent.
“There’s no danger of going below our policy,” Fitts said.
That was one of many points Fitts shared with commissioners Wednesday as he made the first of several presentations on the town’s budget for 2016.
Total revenue for the upcoming year is projected at $7,296,220, while total expenditures are projected to be $7,998,300. Along with using its savings, the town’s current plan calls for making up that $702,080 gap with installment financing proceeds ($252,000), transportation impact fees ($44,300) and Powell Bill funds ($32,450).
As it has for several years now, Zebulon is facing the effects of slow growth and its population figures being 20 percent lower than previously estimated. The town plans to continue a frugal approach by again limiting the amount of capital projects it takes on in the upcoming year, but intends to at least maintain its current level of service.
“Hopefully growth and sales tax and other things will see growth so we can start doing more capital projects, because we’ve pushed off a lot of those over the last few years,” Fitts said. “Hopefully we can get to a point where we’re not delaying so much of it.”
Remaining on the town’s to-do list for 2016 are 10 capital projects totaling $522,100.
The largest of these are street paving and repair ($115,000), and the replacement of a dump truck ($113,500) and two police vehicles ($90,000) using lease purchase financing. Also in the CIP are finishing Phase I of the storm-water improvements on Yates Place ($88,600, using transportation impact fees); a breathing air machine for the fire department ($48,000, lease purchase financing); tennis and basketball court resurfacing ($31,000); greenways and website redesign ($10,000 each); a GIS computer for the planning department ($9,500); and a voicemail server ($6,500).
The proposed budget calls for delaying 11 other projects totaling $350,775.
Those are installation of a data server, town hall WiFi installation, a council chambers projector, replacement of the HVAC and water line at the fire department, and street paving projects. Other projects delayed in the first draft of the budget are general sidewalk improvements; replacement of police, public works and parks and recreation vehicles; and replacement of parks and recreation mowing equipment.
While there are no planned changes to garbage, parks and recreation or stormwater fees, water and sewer rates are slated to increase 5.5 percent to keep in line with the utilities merger agreement with the City of Raleigh and meet the projected payout goal of July 1, 2024. That means, as proposed, customers using 5,000 gallons per month would pay about $7 more monthly and about $86 more annually for their water and sewer service.
In the area of personnel, the proposed budget includes 2.5 percent merit raises based on annual evaluations and the continuance of a part-time position in the planning department. It also proposes a 2 percent bump to the salary scale to keep town jobs competitive, considering cost of living increases.
A variety of cost-saving measures remain options for town leaders, however, as they work to smooth out the budget over the next couple month. They include reducing or eliminating street paving, increasing taxes, reducing the scope of merit raises, eliminating part-time positions and increasing fees.