Getting ready for growth is a challenge for every community, regardless of its size. In fact, it’s a little like the chicken or the egg puzzle.
Towns rarely have the resources to prepare for the growth until that growth has arrived to help swell a town’s finances through taxation. And, yet no one – including elected leaders – wants to see their town suffer through several years of antagonizing clutter and stuffiness while the town’s coffers grow enough to provide the infrastructure a town needs to deal with new stores, new schools, new houses and new people.
And, yet that is the conundrum some of the towns in eastern Wake County face. Two giant subdivisions – one in Wendell, the other in Knightdale – will add to the demand for resources, schools, roads and water in both those towns. Only Zebulon, among eastern Wake County towns doesn’t seem poised to be overrun by rapid growth at this moment. Assuredly, though, Zebulon’s day is coming.
At a town hall-style meeting a couple weeks ago, organized by WakeUp Wake County, local and regional leaders discussed the challenges.
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Here are a couple thoughts for dealing growth.
Towns routinely budget with an eye toward savings. Muncipalities regularly refer to fund balances - or savings when they make mid-year budget adjustments and when they consider where to get just a little bit more money that revenues are likely to bring in during a given year.
The state sets a floor on how small that account can be. Most towns, including all three in eastern Wake County, have self-imposed floors that are higher than that. Commissioners and council members can adjust budgets to set more money aside each year in their fund balances. Doing so would allow towns to save money for large expenses down the road. That strategy takes a while to develop, so it may not bear fruit in time to help deal with the growth that’s on the immediate horizon. But it is a good long-term strategy.
The other suggestion we offer towns is to dust off their long-range growth plans. Examine them to see if the plans still work to create orderly growth. Are the plans realistic considering the current state of affairs. Can rules be written to manage the rate of growth in such a way that town resources can keep pace with growth?
The WakeUp Wake County meeting focused a great deal on regional partnerships, which we always encourage. But at the end of the day, towns will have to manage their own challenges. Eastern Wake County towns can do that, but it requires a long view.