As Apex’s Town Council prepares for its annual budget retreat Friday, representatives from town organizations crowded into the council’s chambers Tuesday evening to make last-second pitches for funding.
The request that provoked the liveliest discussion was a presentation by Don Willis, program manager of Wake County’s Human Services department. He asked the town to consider a $15,000 contribution toward WakeTRACS, a transportation service that serves disabled and poor people living in rural areas of the county. Willis said the service provided almost 2,600 rides last year to, from or within Apex.
Willis said the program receives the vast majority of its funding from other sources but that voluntary local funding is needed to increase the capacity of the service. He said the service has turned away about a quarter of the requests it receives.
Councilman Gene Schulze said he thought the service, which Willis said only charges riders a nominal portion of the $30-per-ride cost, could be provided more cheaply.
“It seems like it would be more efficient to call a taxi for that person and have them pay a couple dollars and avoid the wear and tear on the vans,” Schulze said.
Willis said the additional costs required to contract and insure a company that’s qualified to assist elderly and disabled residents out of their homes and into the vehicles are critical to the premise of the service.
The Apex Farmers Market, the Apex Downtown Business Association, and the Apex Arts Council were among other groups asking for money at Tuesday’s meeting.
The farmers market requested $30,000, the largest sum of any group, to fund its educational programs and an additional staff position.
J.C. Knowles of the downtown association asked that the town reinstate the $10,000 in funding he said his group had received in previous years, the absence of which he said could “cripple” the association. Knowles requested a 50-percent increase in town funding, or $15,000, for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Councilman Bill Jensen said Apex’s finances are in uncommonly good shape for a town of its size and that each of the requests likely would receive some kind of consideration, though some groups might not receive as much money as they’d asked for.
“We came out positive a couple million dollars this last budget year, and that goes into our reserves,” he said. “We do have the money to spend, but you want to spend it on the correct things.”
The board will meet at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Town Hall for a day-long budget retreat, which is open to the public. Interim Town Manager Drew Havens said the focus of that meeting will be finding ways to execute and pay for ideas floated at the council’s strategic planning retreat in January.
“The town has not had a council-driven strategic plan, but we’d had one in the past that was staff-driven,” Havens said. “We said we were going to put that aside and start from the ground up with a strategic plan from the council.”
Friday’s meeting will also produce a ranked list of initiatives. Of last year’s suggestions, a transportation bond, road construction, and a senior center were unanimously chosen as budget priorities. Apex committed to building the senior center last October, and voters approved a $15 million transportation bond referendum in November. Various recreational projects, including turf fields and greenways, were prioritized by five of the six council members.
In other business
▪ The council received a plaque from an AT&T representative recognizing parts of the town as “fiber ready,” a distinction meant to attract tech companies to the town.
▪ Apex filmmaker John Demers request for town co-sponsorship of the Peak City International Film Festival on April 2, was met favorably. The council unanimously voted to approve the sponsorship, worth $1,200, and referred to committee his request for a police motorcade during the festival for a cost evaluation. Demers is the creator and executive producer of “History’s Heroes: The Rusty Bucket Kids,” a television series filmed in Apex.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @hgargan