The Holly Springs Town Council showed early support this week for a property tax increase of 2 cents per $100 valuation, but the opinion isn’t unanimous.
The tax hike of about 5 percent would fund a $9 million upgrade of the town’s parks system. A planning session for the year’s budget illuminated a sharp 3-2 split on Monday in favor of the rate increase, which would cost about $4.50 per month for a typical Holly Springs home, based on 2011 sale prices.
Councilmen Chet VanFossen, Jimmy Cobb, Tim Sack, Mayor Dick Sears and Town Manager Carl Dean pushed for the tax increase, arguing that it’s vital and voter-approved, while councilwomen Cheri Lee and Linda Hunt Williams argued again that residents were under-informed in the run-up to the vote that essentially authorized a tax hike.
The majority and minority found little common ground in a 90-minute meeting. Those in favor of the increase said the town needs the money to improve and expand the greenways and public grounds that attract people to Holly Springs.
The government’s authority, said VanFossen, came with a ballot-approved referendum allowing the town to take on $20 million of debt and, the ballot warned, potential associated tax increases.
“I said in every campaign I ever ran that I wouldn’t raise taxes unless I put it out to a vote, which is exactly what we did,” VanFossen said. “I don’t feel like I’m in a dilemma at all.”
Councilwoman Lee replied that the council still shouldn’t forget some residents’ opposition to higher bills.
“I’ve received numerous emails not to raise taxes, numerous emails stating that in a lot of the (pre-referendum) public forums we had, the idea was to try to do this out of our growth,” she said. According to rough early plans, the tax hike would allow the town enough debt to build, by 2018, turf, lights, tennis courts, a field house, parking improvements and a playground at Parrish Womble Park; a playground, water park, disc golf course, pier and dock, and parking improvements at Jones Park; $1.2 million of new greenways and a new stand-alone gym.
Without the tax increase, manager Dean said, the town will only be able to afford vital new assets, such as public safety vehicles, an extension of Main Street and limited parks spending. Kevin Adams, vice chair of the town’s parks advisory board, said Holly Springs is already “$40 million behind” on parks spending.
Sack pressed Williams to say whether parks improvements are a necessity for the town. Williams said they were, but “not to the point of raising taxes.”
“It’s going to trickle down through the entire economy. Every business is going to have to pay extra taxes. We’re going to be less attractive economically,” said Williams, who wants the town to build new parks as it can afford them.
The flip side of her argument is other council members’ view that Holly Springs is attractive to businesses and people because it has made investments in public services, from water systems to parks.
“To keep our parks first-class, we’re going to have to spend a little more money than what’s available,” Councilman Cobb said.
In the end, the heated discussion confirmed that a 3-2 voting majority of the council could accept the 2-cent tax hike, which would add about $654,000 to the town’s tax base. But the council will still have to decide whether to raise taxes with the start of the new budget year this summer.
“As we get closer to June, it’s going to be less guidance and more decision,” said Dean.