Even though the town’s budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year includes a decrease in the property tax rate, many Apex homeowners likely will pay more tax if it passes because of the recent revaluation process.
Members of the town’s politically divided council came to a compromise on a rate of roughly 38 cents per $100 of property value. That’s lower than the current rate of 39 cents, but higher than the revenue neutral rate at which revenue would have remained constant, calculated this year at 36.1 cents.
State law requires municipalities to produce what’s known as a revenue-neutral budget, one that assumes no increase in property tax revenue based on the latest property revaluation. In cases where the base value of homes increases, as in Apex, a revenue-neutral budget usually involves a decrease in the rate so the absolute amount the town collects remains constant.
The Town Council met Thursday, April 14, to discuss the draft prepared by town staff and interim Town Manager Drew Havens, who used input from the council’s March 9 budget retreat to craft several versions of the budget that took a variety of tax rates into account. Those documents are now available for review online ahead of a public hearing on the draft May 3.
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“What we ended up with was a gap between what we could really afford with the revenue neutral tax rate and what the needs are,” Havens said. “The needs continue to grow and kind of outpace revenue.”
The draft calls for no increase in water, sewer and electric rates, a slight increase in recycling rates and a slight decrease in trash pick-up rates. Under those conditions, the town’s budget for its major funds in 2016-17 is set at $102.6 million. The budget will be finalized by late June in time for the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
“We have things we want to catch up on,” Councilman Bill Jensen said. “I wanted 39 (cents) for economic development projects, but 38 was what we could everyone to agree on.”
Mayor Lance Olive said that was especially true with respect to the town’s fleet of vehicles, many of which are aging after the town forewent a replacement cycle during the recession. The average age of the fleet’s vehicles is about eight years, Olive said. The recommended budget includes $515,000 for a new fire truck.
“It’s one thing for a park supervisor’s truck to stop between parks,” Olive said. “But you don’t want a fire truck, a police vehicle, or EMS truck to fail.”
The draft budget includes money for projects outlined in the town’s capital improvement plan, a five-year outline of long-term infrastructure investment. A $1.2 million appropriation would pay for designing and initiating the final two phases of the Apex Peakway project. Olive said construction of the southwestern project could begin by the end of this year.
The proposed budget also includes money for new personnel to keep up with town affairs as its population grows. Apex’s current population figure of more than 47,000 is expected to grow to 50,000 in the next 18 months, Olive said.
Councilman Gene Schulze said some “hard decisions are being made.”
“The bottom line for me is that we’re a growing town, our needs are truly growing and it’s getting harder and harder to make do with what we have,” Schulze said.
Town staff requested a total of 36 new staff positions, though many of those requests will go unmet, Havens said. His budget recommends 17 new staff positions. Olive said it is important to ensure that requests from town departments with less of a public presence, like planning and finance, receive as much attention as those from their counterparts in the police and fire departments.
“We said, ‘Let the town manager do due diligence in balancing the personnel requests so we’re not allowing unfair bias,’ ” Olive said. “We don’t want to have one department get overfunded beause we don’t have the neutral viewpoint of the town manager.”
Police Chief John Letteney said his department is requesting 13 new hires spread out over three years, a larger number than usual. That figure is the result of an assessment completed at the end of 2014 that revealed the department was understaffed, Letteney said. One of those positions would be a second resource officer at Apex High School, which, with about 2,500 people on campus each day, Letteney described as “basically a small city.”
Letteney said there has been a small increase in incidents requiring officer intervention at Apex High. Another officer on campus would allow each to spend more time proactively working with students rather than reacting to call after call, he said.
The police department received the highest recommended general fund expenditure of any town program, just over $10.9 million, and five of the recommended 17 new positions. The fire department’s appropriation is second highest, at $7.45 million. That includes funding for four of 14 requested positions, also second most among departments.
“There’s also need in our service departments,” said Schulze, a former firefighter and EMT. “The planning department is being taxed tremendously, for instance, but the way I look at it, when it comes to life and death situations, public safety is more important to me.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan
The Apex Town Council will hold a public hearing on the budget during a regular council meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 3, at Apex Town Hall Council Chambers at 73 Hunter St. See the budget at apexnc.org. Email input to firstname.lastname@example.org.