A last-minute move to add a $1 trash fee hike and $1.78 million in additional spending to Raleigh’s budget is drawing fire from residents who oppose what they call “pet projects.”
The Raleigh City Council approved its budget Tuesday for the next fiscal year, leaving City Manager Russell Allen’s original proposal largely unchanged while adding 10 new expenditures after a public hearing. The approved budget still keeps property taxes steady while increasing utility bills, adding 40 new positions and giving employees a 3 percent raise.
Opponents of the budget add-ons say a trash increase – effectively charging every household in Raleigh $12 a year – isn’t the right way to pay for the projects. “You’re talking about a trash hike that affects everybody, but you don’t allow anybody to comment on it,” said Joe Boisvert, a neighborhood leader in the University Park area. “These projects are very focused in nature on certain parts of town.”
Among the new allocations: $92,520 to connect a Northeast Raleigh neighborhood to the Neuse River Greenway; $45,000 for an anti-speeding campaign targeting specific neighborhoods; and $150,000 for a corridor study to identify needs along South Saunders Street.
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Boisvert said he’s particularly concerned about a $200,000 “vicinity plan” Councilman Russ Stephenson added for the Cameron Village area.
“No one can tell me the scope, the magnitude and the overall utility of this plan,” Boisvert said. “There are already existing plans that handle that area. ... At best it’s not necessary, and at worst it’s a waste of $200,000.”
Stephenson says the plan is necessary to identify future transportation, transit and infrastructure needs as the area grows rapidly. Cameron Village shopping center’s owners and multiple neighborhood groups, he said, “have all signed on to say this is important.”
The new expenses aren’t what Allen, the outgoing city manager, recommended for addition to the budget. In a memo earlier this month, he suggested a trash hike be used to buy five fire trucks and two leaf-collection trucks as well as to add two jobs to the recycling department. The council’s final budget included one fire truck and directed the rest of the fee revenues to other projects.
Asked about his recommendation on Wednesday, Allen said the new equipment wasn’t essential. “I listed those as options that would be very helpful, but not critical,” he said.
Allen also argued that the fee hike will go toward the trash budget, saying that property taxes currently subsidize the service. By increasing garbage fee revenue, he said, the city council frees up more money in the general fund to pay for other projects.
Joey Stansbury, a frequent critic of the council, dismisses that explanation as a “shell game.” He’s particularly critical of the council’s addition of $208,000 to fund arts grants.
“Mayor McFarlane has never met an arts request she didn’t like, and her passion for the arts puts a further burden on Raleigh taxpayers,” Stansbury said, noting that the city is already spending $39,000 on what he called “tacky” art on city buses.
“If you put a fire truck up against public art, I think I know where the Raleigh taxpayers’ priority would lie,” he said.
Not everyone got what they wanted from this year’s budget. Employees from the fire, police and sanitation departments had asked for that raise to be increased to 5 percent, but the city council didn’t approve the request. City council members will get a $1,000 raise as part of a gradual $5,000 increase approved last year. The mayor will earn $17,000 a year, while council members will get $12,000.
The trash-fee hike will generate an estimated $1.38 million, with the rest of the funding to come from unspent dollars that Allen anticipates will be available.