Eastern Wake News

Wendell commissioners have tough budget decisions ahead

Phillip Smith of Wendell Parks and Recreation loads disc golf baskets onto the back of a Gator before installing them along the wooded trail at Wendell Park on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Parks and Recreation staff says the Gator isn’t designed to traverse the steep hills along the parks’ trail, and they have made a 2017-18 budget request for a side-by-side utility vehicle for that purpose.
Phillip Smith of Wendell Parks and Recreation loads disc golf baskets onto the back of a Gator before installing them along the wooded trail at Wendell Park on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Parks and Recreation staff says the Gator isn’t designed to traverse the steep hills along the parks’ trail, and they have made a 2017-18 budget request for a side-by-side utility vehicle for that purpose. amoody@newsobserver.com

Buying a replacement leaf truck might not seem like a major undertaking, but it is for this town, where the coming budget is likely to be too small to accommodate all needs.

Public Works is one of a handful of Wendell departments facing large expenses this year in order to maintain services or expand them to keep pace with a growing population. The result is interdepartmental competition for funding as town leaders enter budget season.

“We’ll probably see an increase (in property tax revenue) of maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Town Manager Teresa Piner said. “So if the leaf truck’s got it, where are the (staff) raises? Where are the police cars? We’ve got some things where warranties are running out or equipment is nearing the end of its life cycle.”

Piner and her department heads gave brief overviews Monday of their most pressing needs in the fiscal year starting July 1. The session was intended to prepare board members for some significant funding decisions.

“It can be sticker shock. It is for me,” Piner said. “So what we’re trying to do is instead of a whole lot of extra meetings is kind of leading them in and filling them in a little bit at a time. We’ve got such big items coming down the pipeline that some (board members) haven’t had to deal with before.”

‘Did I miss Wendell?’

Speaking for David Bergmark, who was out of town, Piner presented the highlights of the planning department’s budget requests.

They include $85,000 for land-use and transportation planning for Wendell Falls Parkway between Wendell Falls and downtown and $100,000 for way-finding signs.

“What we’re finding is when you’re coming in from Wendell Boulevard and you get around Liles Dean Road, it’s like, ‘Well, there’s Sheetz and the credit union. Did I miss Wendell? Did I miss a turn? Where is it?’ ” Piner said.

The Planning Department also listed the potential for $300,000 worth of design work for realigning the junction of Rolesville Road and Wendell Boulevard. That would be the first step toward a $6 million project.

Tamah Hughes, the town’s information technology administrator, said the town needs 20 new computers and a new server. Several other pieces of equipment, she said, will need replacing in the next year or two.

Mayor Ginna Gray rolled an idea about leasing copiers into a question about leasing computers. Hughes said she would look into that.

“I think any time you’re looking at especially something with 20 computers or the mass of copiers we have, you should look at evaluating or getting the cost for buying versus leasing versus putting in a virtual desktop system,” Hughes said.

Guzzling funds

Parks and Recreation is asking for a part-time staff member to help with mowing and park maintenance. It is also seeking wall-mounted basketball goals to address safety concerns, a 15-passenger van and a bathroom trailer for special events, among other things.

A used, low-mileage van would cost about $30,000 and the bathroom trailer about $42,000. Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Polaski said the trailer could improve rental business at the athletic fields at Carver Elementary.

Public Works Director Alton Bryant told the board his staff has shrunk by one as work demands have only increased over the last nine years. For that reason, he is requesting three new full-time positions.

“We’ve done quite well with the existing staff, but unfortunately, we’ve become more reactive than proactive in maintaining and being on top of a number of things,” Bryant said. “We do a lot of things, but not all of them are done well.”

Public Works also wants to replace the town’s leaf truck ($185,000), replace two pickups and purchase a bucket truck. The auxiliary engine in the town’s 9-year-old leaf truck is burning oil.

Bryant is also asking for modifications to the public works building that is under construction. He wants to create additional office space.

Police Chief Bill Carter revisited a past presentation on vehicles in need of replacement and said time is of the essence.

“I wish it were as simple as being able to go out and buy a car and have it on the street the next week,” Carter said. “The reality, by buying it when it has to be manufactured under contract ... it can be six to eight months from the time you actually cut the purchase order to when you’re actually able to put the vehicle on the road.”

A town assessment showed nine police vehicles qualified for replacement, with three of those listed as a critical need. The turnkey cost is about $45,000 per vehicle.

Carter also is asking for an additional officer in the upcoming fiscal year.

“We need to get on a rotation, because if we don’t do this or that this year, next year’s going to be worse,” Piner said.

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