The Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a budget Tuesday night that doesn’t raise taxes but allows for the hiring of several new employees and sets aside money for a renovating an arts center.
The $21.5 million spending plan marks a 16-percent increase from last year, which town leaders attribute to the area’s growth over the past few years.
“We’re beginning to see some economic strength,” Town Manager Adam Mitchell said.
The property tax rate will remain at 38.5 cents per $100 valuation.
The budget allocates an estimated $500,000 to hire 10.5 new positions, which includes two police officers, two firefighters, and one new hire apiece in public utilities, public works and information technology. The town also will hire someone to direct its new cultural and performing arts facility that will take over the privately run Stars Theater.
Commissioners said the town is hiring new people to make up for positions lost during the recession. Mayor John Byrne said the number of hires represents the biggest staff increase in the town’s history, but added that it’s unsurprising, given the growth Fuquay-Varina has experienced.
“The time is right for us to continue to expand staff,” Commissioner William Harris said. “I really think this budget is good.”
The budget also includes $706,717 in capital projects, which includes converting the Stars Theater & Arts Center into a town-operated facility.
Before the budget discussion began Tuesday, resident Pat Barker criticized the board for keeping the Stars Theater plan a secret and said there wasn’t an opportunity for the community to give their input.
“It wasn’t necessary to do that,” Pat Barker said. “As a taxpaying citizen, I am disappointed.”
Barker is married to Bob Barker, a businessman and former mayor who had offered the town a downtown warehouse and $1 million for a $13 million arts and conference center. The town decided not to pursue that plan because of the high costs. The town had set aside $5 million for an arts center.
At the time of the vote, Bob Barker and members of the town’s Cultural Arts Study Committee also criticized the process that town leaders used to make the decision about the Stars Theater. Members of the committee, who had recommended Barker’s plan, said they never were consulted about the Stars Theater building on East Vance Street as an option. Nancy Johns, the Barkers’ daughter, was a member of the committee.
Town officials discussed the theater plans in closed session in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Law, which allows for the discussion of acquiring property.
Bob Barker said at the time that he had been informed of the decision in mid-April in a private meeting.
Wednesday, town spokeswoman Susan Weis said the matter was open for public comment at a May 4 board meeting, when the Stars Theater plan was presented to the public for the first time.
Pat Barker also said Tuesday that the town hadn’t had the Stars Theater building appraised. Mitchell said the building had been appraised, at $615,000. The paid $575,000 for it.
Pat Barker said she is concerned there won’t be adequate seating in Stars Theater. Barker said a town arts center should seat at least 600. The Stars Theater has a capacity of 147.
In other business
Mitchell gave a report on the Terrible Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s planned expansion. The Board chose to upgrade the plant to 3 million gallons per day from its current capacity of 1 million gallons per day, on Mitchell’s recommendation. The other option was 2 million gallons per day.
The current treatment plant was built in 1995. Construction on the expansion should begin in spring 2016, and should be operational by late 2018.
“We’re running out of short-term solutions,” Byrne said. “I truly think this is the right thing.”
In May, the board voted to approve up to $36 million in financing for the expansion. The town will use a series of fee increases over the next few years to fund the construction. This year, the average resident will see monthly bills rise by $5.25.