Zebulon redraws tax increase in new budget draft

amoody@newsobserver.comMay 24, 2013 

— The second draft of the town’s 2014 budget took some of the burden off taxpayers as Zebulon prepares for the likely loss of a major revenue steam.

But the plan, which town staff presented to commissioners at their regular meeting in May, would place more burden on the town.

At the meeting, Zebulon Finance Director Bobby Fitts proposed a 1.25-cent property tax increase for the upcoming year, a decrease from the 54.25-cent rate he had proposed in April. The May proposal would bring the tax rate to 52.5 cents per $100 of property value.

To keep the proposed budget afloat, Fitts recommended snipping more capital and operational expenses off an already tight budget for the upcoming fiscal year – one in which Zebulon will lose about $420,000 if a state reimbursement known as hold harmless funds is not renewed in the General Assembly.

“If somehow the hold harmless funds are reinstated, we could adjust that tax increase or eliminate the tax increase, possibly, and reduce the fund balance amount,” Fitts said at the May meeting.

The second draft calls for freezing four vacant positions between the Zebulon Public Works and Police departments, producing a savings of about $195,000 in fiscal year 2014.

Two of those positions have become vacant since Fitts presented the first draft of the budget in April.

“It had nothing to do with the budget,” Town Manager Rick Hardin said of the two most recent vacancies. “(The positions) just came open, just like the other two vacancies had not long before, and we had already said anything that comes open we were going to keep open.”

More projects left out

The May proposal also called for $427,800 in cuts or delays to capital project originally slated for this year. Projects left out include the purchase of three police cars, finance software, street paving, a data server, the Zebulon Elementary School ball field drainage project and the Fire Department GIS computer and HVAC replacement.

The possible demolition of the old police station ($50,000) and roof repair at old council chambers ($15,000) were also stricken from the list.

Funding of the Zebulon-Wendell Express bus service at a reduced rate of $12,500, and the completion of the Shepard School Road sidewalk project remained on the list of capital projects.

Seven projects totaling $560,635, to be financed over 10 years, remained on the list. They are the public works emergency radio system, masonry repairs at Town Hall, fire station roof replacement (Wake County pays for half), fire alarm replacement at the Municipal Complex, HVAC replacement at Town Hall and public works, and the creation of a Unified Development Ordinance.

As proposed, the town would use $100,000 in capital reserve funds toward the financing projects, reducing the total financing amount from $560,635 to $460,635. By doing so, the town would reduce its annual debt service payment by about $13,000.

The town is also budgeting to save about $60,000 through an agreement that Wake County would help fund half of three firefighter positions that were previously funded in full by a federal grant.

The new proposed general fund budget is $7,939,245, a decrease of about $200,000 from the first draft presented in April.

Talk of more cuts

Commissioners reviewed several other cost-saving measures at their May 6 meeting.

They favored of the idea of changing recycling services from weekly with 48-gallon containers to every-other-week with 96-gallon containers. The switch would save the town about $11,500.

They also looked at reducing the frequency of mowing along the U.S. Hwy 64/264 off ramp, but decided it would be best to keep the current schedule of mowing every 10 days.

“If we go much longer than 10 days, it’s probably going to take us more time and it’s going to be tougher on our equipment,” Zebulon Public Works Director Chris Ray informed the board.

Town board members had a mix of opinions on the idea of eliminating the bus service to town, which Fitts said serves about 20 people daily.

Commissioner Curtis Strickland said he isn’t opposed to the bus service as commuters have a legitimate need for the service. Commissioner Beverly Clark said the bus service is something people have to learn to use for it to become effective.

“If you take it away, it will never happen,” Clark said.

Mayor Bob Matheny suggested tabling any decisions on the matter until Wendell and transit representatives make their plans regarding the service for the upcoming year.

A discussion on employee furloughs got no interest from the board.

As proposed, any positions in the parks and recreation, police or public works departments that become vacant in the next year would be reviewed by Hardin, who would then make a recommendation on whether or not to fill the position.

Moody: 919-829-4806

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