Cary News

Holly Springs council shaves down tax hike

Town leaders have scaled back the tax and utility rate hikes that will likely take effect this summer. The Holly Springs Town Council knocked half a cent off the proposed 2.5-cent-per-$100 valuation property tax increase and nixed a suggested five-percent water and sewer hike at a meeting Monday.

About a week earlier, a three-member majority of the board voted to add the tax increase to the draft budget, a financial plan that takes effect in June. The proposed tax hike, which would fund a major parks expansion, has polarized the town council along a 3-2 split.

The hike’s elected supporters voluntarily walked back the hike, saying the town could delay parts of the multimillion dollar parks expansion that voters approved last fall. The council also vetoed the town manager’s proposal to increase typical water and sewer bills by a few dollars each month.

“We tried to maximize what we could do as cheaply as possible,” said Councilman Tim Sack. With the reduced property tax hike, town staff project Holly Springs will be able to borrow only $8.9 million instead of $11 million for the new parks.

To make the cut, the town plans to delay $2 million of spending on the downtown Mims Park and a $3 million gymnasium. The projects had been part of a five-year plan, but were among the least solid of the proposed projects. The downtown park plan is in its infancy, while the gymnasium can’t move forward before a sizeable bridge project is complete. Plans for a dock and pier at Jones Park also were dumped.

For now, other priorities have emerged: At the top of the town’s list are $3 million of turf, lights, tennis courts and facilities for Womble Park; $500,000 for a playground, asphalt and a disc golf course at Jones Park; and $1 million each for greenways, semi-permanent athletic fields, and the purchase of new lands.

The town could begin work on those projects within three years, but the plans also are susceptible to change, depending on financing and other factors.

“We don’t have any hard numbers on any of these projects,” said Councilman Chet VanFossen.

The cuts were not enough to win the support of councilwomen Cheri Lee and Linda Hunt Williams. As before, they argued that the town should pay for its parks system more slowly, without tax increases.

The proposed tax hike would come out to an extra $63 per year on the bill for a $250,000 home. But even that extra $655,000 of annual revenue won’t satisfy residents’ increasing demands on the parks system, said Chuck Simmons, the assistant town manager. “There’s easily $22 million, $23 million of needs out there,” he said.