The town manager expects a slow economy will keep Cary in stasis for another year, with money available only for a handful of new hires and top-priority projects, he said on Friday. And for the second year in a row, Ben Shivar has recommended the town dip into savings to pay for one-time construction expenses.
The new budget includes a six percent water-sewer hike, estimated to cost $3 to $5 for a typical house, but no new property taxes.
Shivar’s draft budget “only funds the highest-priority must-haves for the coming years,” he told the Cary Town Council on Thursday.
He recommends a six-percent utility rate hike, seven new town employees and a merit pay increase of up to three percent. His capital plan puts aside $11 million for general projects, including downtown improvements, a Chatham County park, and an extensive greenway. It also puts $10.8 million toward transportation and $25.8 million for improvements to the town utility systems.
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Even with that spending, Shivar said, “we are behind.” The town’s finances have grown slowly since the recession, leaving less money to keep pace with maintenance costs and new demands on parks, roads and other infrastructure.
The town still hasn’t revived the dozens of projects it stalled more than two years ago, and likely won’t unless it gets a big new source of revenue: a tax increase, which voters could approve this fall.
If voters approve, the town could take on $80 million of parks, fire and infrastructure projects, resulting in a two-cent per $100 valuation tax hike next July, and another two years later
Until then, the town has turned to another alternative. This year’s budget draws $5 million from cash reserves to pay for some new projects, while last year’s budget pulled $11 million for the same.
Without a tax increase, Shivar said, the town’s future budgets will look much like this one’s – too limited to keep pace. He’s not holding out much hope for an improvement in property taxes, the town’s biggest revenue source. New construction continues to slow, with last year’s numbers the worst since the recession.
“Until the housing market recovers, I don’t think (revenue) is going to pick back up,” he said. “Most economists are saying to expect a very slow recovery.”