Next year’s city budget will likely have funding for long-delayed overhauls of Peace Street and Moore Square downtown, city manager Ruffin Hall said last week.
The Raleigh City Council got a sneak peek at Hall’s first budget proposal. The formal proposal won’t come until May, and Hall said he’s not yet sure about possible garbage fee hikes and employee raises.
But Hall said Raleigh’s already in a position to borrow up to $15.3 million toward the Moore Square project, which is estimated to cost $14.8 million. The renovations to the one-block downtown park include park are set to include an outdoor cafe, granite plaza and tiered lawns.
“There’s a lot of economic development happening in that particular place,” Hall said, adding that designs for the new Moore Square were approved several years ago. “There’s a lot of work that’s already been done, and if we were to allocate this funding, it would really kickstart that in a way that would leverage the timing of private projects going on in that particular area.”
Construction is already well under way on SkyHouse Raleigh, a 23-story luxury apartment tower at the southwest corner of the square. It’s the first phase of developer Gregg Sandreuter’s Edison project, which also includes a 13-story office tower and a second apartment building.
Hall said the Moore Square funding is possible because Raleigh has available debt capacity. State law allows cities to borrow up to two-thirds of the amount their debt was decreased by in the past fiscal year. “This is a good opportunity related to careful planning,” he said. “It’s an example of good financial management.”
Hall also expects to fund the West Peace Street streetscape project, a $2 million series of improvements between St. Mary’s and West street near Glenwood South. The plan has been delayed for years by funding shortfalls amid the recession. It calls for a tree-lined street with wider sidewalks, sheltered bus stops, fewer overhead power lines and fewer driveway entrances to better connect downtown with Cameron Village.
“It’s been in limbo for several years but is shovel ready,” transportation planning manager Eric Lamb said.
Among the other highlights from last week’s early budget talks:
New positions: As the economic rebound provides increased tax revenues, Hall expects to add new jobs at city hall next year. Among the proposed positions: nine new police officers, two additional five-man crews for sidewalk and asphalt repaving projects, a social media manager and two people to staff the new special events office to coordinate street closures and logistics.
Tax hike for roads: Following the passage of last year’s $75 million transportation bond referendum, property taxes will increase 1.12 cents per $100 valuation, or about $33 more a year in taxes for a house valued at $300,000. Raleigh’s property tax rate will remain below that of major North Carolina cities with the exception of Cary. The first bond projects – widenings of Buck Jones Road in Southwest Raleigh and Mitchell Mill Road in Northeast Raleigh – will begin construction as early as this summer.
Uncertainties remain: Hall will decide next month whether to hike monthly garbage fees. Raleigh wants to make trash and recycling services self-sufficient, and to do that within the next decade would require an annual increase of $1.45 each year. “At this point, I would say it’s up for consideration,” Hall said.
Employee raises also remain undecided for now; city workers got up to 3 percent in merit raises this past year. “Paying competitive wages is key to our recruitment and retention,” budget director Joyce Munro said.
Hall’s proposed budget will be presented to the city council on May 20 with a public hearing on June 3.