Given the nature of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes a significant property tax increase, town leaders want to hear feedback from the public earlier rather than later.
The town in recent years has often held work sessions on its spending plan, first, and then a public hearing – commonly adopting the budget directly following the hearing and often with few or no changes.
This year, town leaders will hold the public hearing on the budget on Monday, June 6, leaving enough time to meet at least once more with public comments in consideration before the budget is due July 1.
“I think we ought to go to the public and then come back because I think in order for us to understand what we need to do, we need to hear from the public, first,” Commissioner Dale Beck said in response to options presented by Town Manager Joe Moore on May 18.
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The Board of Commissioners had a budget meeting that night, but it was more of a refresher course on budget highlights than anything else.
The proposed plan calls for a 5-cent increase to the current tax rate, to 57.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, to help balance an $11.24 million budget, which is about $2.5 million more than the budget for the current fiscal year.
Much of the increase is pointed at catching the town up where it has been lagging in street resurfacing and vehicle fleet needs. The intention is to designate two cents of the tax base to each of those areas annually going forward.
The proposed rate, however, is 8.2 cents more than the estimated rate needed to generate the same tax revenue as last year, prior to the property revaluation by Wake County. It would be the highest tax rate the town has seen in at least the past 18 years if approved, and would require a resident with property valued at $150,000 to pay $75 more in town taxes for the year.
Moore noted that the board has heard town staff present details and rationale on its proposed budget in two work sessions already, but commissioners have heard nothing from its residents.
“One option to approach this is you’ve heard from staff, now hear from the public and then schedule work sessions after that,” Moore said. “The other route is to try to have work sessions in advance of the public hearing.”
Mayor Bob Matheny said it is his opinion that the budget the town presents at the public hearing should be close as possible to a final draft.
“Joe and I actually have a difference of opinion on this, and that’s fine, but I just feel like when we go to the public we should say this is what we’re proposing,” Matheny said.
Matheny said even if the work sessions are held before the public hearing, the board could still meet again and make revisions after the hearing like it has in the past.
Beck didn’t budge and recommended the June 6 date for the public hearing.
“This is a little different situation,” Beck said. “I think we’ve got a budget that’s been presented here. I think we need to go ahead and see what our citizens think about it. Then we can massage it from there, and then it will be both (our) budget and the community’s budget, too.”
The board will schedule the work session, or sessions, during the June 6 meeting.
“I’d rather have two (dates) set aside, and if we don’t need the second one then fine, we don’t need it,” Matheny said.