When property owners get their tax bills later this year, the amount they owe could increase slightly.
The budget Town Manager Rodney Dickerson proposed to council members Tuesday night includes a tax hike that’s less than half a cent.
Town officials were able to present a budget with only a marginal increase because property revaluations in Garner during 2015 raised the total value of property in the town limits.
The budget also projects steep revenue increases from building permits because economic development activity is expected to continue at high levels during the coming year.
On the expense side, a lot of the new money will go into employees. The budget calls for funding the town’s share of significant pay increases for the fire department and it includes just over $300,000 for merit increases for town employees.
Overall personnel costs are projected to increase just over 4.5 percent. The other large part of that cost is for insurance. The town’s insurance rates jumped by 33 percent this year.
If council members adopt the budget, the tax rate will rise from 51.39 cents per $100 in property value to 51.75 cents. That change will bring an additional $565,000 into the town’s bank account.
Overall the $30.2 million budget Dickerson presented Tuesday night is 6 percent larger – or $1.7 million – than last year’s spending plan. Council members had few comments about the budget proposal Tuesday night. They spent the day Wednesday going through the budget in detail.
The town will host a public hearing on the spending plan at their June 6 meeting. Dickerson asked council members to adopt the budget at the group’s June 21 meeting ahead of the start of the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Mayor Ronnie Williams said he thought the budget was sound. “I think we could go ahead and approve this plan tonight, but we’ve promised people they’d have their chance to weigh in on it, so we’ll wait,” Williams said.
Town Council members have set a number of priorities they wanted Dickerson and his budget team to meet with this year’s plan, including preserving enough money to make the town’s bond debt payments, keeping the town’s savings account steady, setting aside a portion of new revenue for future bond payments, paying for merit increases for employees, resurfacing town streets, purchasing new vehicles to replace old, worn out ones and finding the money to pay for additional operational costs such as maintaining and operating new buildings.
Dickerson’s proposal met all those standards.
The budget includes $280,000 for new police radios, another $180,000 for bond debt payments and nearly $167,000 for vehicle and equipment replacement.
In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, council members:
• met in closed session for nearly an hour to discuss land acquisition. The town is considering a offer by St. Augustine’s University to sell the historic Meadowbrook Country Club to the town. The 120-acre parcel off White Oak Road is among the first black-owned and black-founded country clubs in the nation when it was established in the late 1950s. The town of Garner has already spurned one offer from the college, but entertained a new offer Tursday night. Town officials say the land could be used as a future park, but it’s unclear if the town would be willing to spend the money in the wake of the 2013 bond sale which brought $35 million in debt to the town’s books for dozens of infrastructure projects throughout the town.
• approved a proposal to allow for-profit groups to use town parks, for a fee, to offer classes and activities. Parks and Recreation Director Sonya Shaw said those activities would be coordinated to avoid interfering with people who want to use the park for other reasons such as walking along greenways or using portions of the parks’ open spaces.
• set a public hearing for June 6 to make public the town’s economic development budget. This is a new requirement under a state law passed last year designed to bring transparency to how the government spends its economic development dollars. Dickerson said there has been some question among towns around the state about exactly how open local governments are required to be when reporting economic development expenditures. He said the town of Garner will present its entire economic development budget at the hearing to avoid running afoul of the new law.