Cary News

Morrisville budget proposal includes property tax increase

The town is considering a cautious budget after losing nearly $900,000 from the legislature’s elimination of business privilege licenses and facing even greater losses from other bills working their way through the General Assembly.

“It primarily focused on taking care of things that were already in the pipeline,” Morrisville budget manager Jeanne Hooks told the Town Council Tuesday when she presented the first draft of the budget.

The $28.2 million proposal includes a 2-cent property tax increase, to 41 cents per $100 in valuation.

But residents have known that was coming since 2012, when voters approved a large bond referendum for $20 million in roads and park projects. The bond also triggered a 2-cent tax hike in 2013.

There were few surprises or sizeable new projects in this early draft of the budget, which the town will continue debating and shaping through June.

The budget proposal doesn’t include any new jobs, keeping staff levels at what the town’s budget document describes as “very low.”

While there won’t be any new hires, Town Manager Martha Paige said, the town will update the long-term transportation plan, increase road maintenance and design new road improvement projects. The budget proposal also includes a revamped merit pay system for employees and several new police vehicles.

Officials seemed mostly pleased with the proposal in front of them.

Mayor Mark Stohlman said he was happy to play it safe.

The proposed budget is $2 million more than the budget for the current fiscal year, but only about $40,000 higher than what the town actually has spent.

“I think you’re smart to be conservative,” Stohlman told the town’s budget officials.

He cited two different plans in the General Assembly to redistribute sales tax revenue to rural areas. If either bill passes, Stohlman said, it would only compound the pain of the privilege license losses.

Morrisville officials believe the town would lose between $950,000 and $1.2 million over the next three years if the General Assembly approves the redistribution. That’s equivalent to about 3 cents on the town’s property tax rate, according to the town’s budget document.

Sales taxes are the second largest source of income in Morrisville, behind property taxes. Sales tax revenue grew 4 percent last year while the property tax base grew 3 percent.

‘Difficult choices’

While keeping personnel at the same level could mean a larger workload for town employees, the average resident likely wouldn’t notice.

A recent survey found only one in three Morrisville residents has ever contacted a town employee, whether it’s a police officer, parks and recreation worker, code enforcer or any other type of position. Yet in that same study, residents were still overwhelmingly positive about the town and its services.

For the proposed 2015-16 budget, only about $2.1 million of the $28.2 million total was put toward new projects or purchases.

“We made some difficult choices among priorities,” Paige said.

The citizen survey found roads were residents’ undisputed priority, with 89 percent listing transportation work as “essential” or “very important” to the town.

Council member Steve Rao said he’s glad the budget avoids raising taxes – except as required by the 2012 bond – given the large loss of privilege license revenue.

“It seems like we get a lot of core things we want out of this budget, so I commend you guys for doing that,” he said.

The budget also would finish some ongoing projects, including roadwork on Morrisville Carpenter Road. There’s money to finish sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements on Church Street, the corner of McCrimmon Parkway and Davis Drive, and the corner of N.C. 54 and Cary Parkway.

“Certainly if we can complete some of these projects we’ve started, that’s good,” Stohlman said.

The town will have several more meetings to discuss the budget, with a final vote scheduled for June 23.

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran