Zebulon town board candidates discuss budgeting for loss of hold harmless funds

amoody@newsobserver.comOctober 26, 2013 

— The two commissioners elected in this town Nov. 5 will join a board that will likely have to wean Zebulon off a major revenue stream.

It is unlikely hold harmless funding, a reimbursement for the legislature’s 1988 decision to repeal the inventory tax, will be extended next year. State legislators earlier this year proposed to extend hold harmless in full for multiple years, but budget writers included funding for only one more year at half the normal rate.

The five candidates for the Zebulon Board of Commissioners have weighed in on ways to keep the town’s budget balanced in the expected absence of the funding – which at the full rate was about $400,000, or 5 percent of the town’s nearly $8 million budget.

Incumbent Beverly Clark and challengers Annie Moore and Glenn York see grant funding as a possible solution for replacing the lost revenue.

“We’ve cut (the budget) as much as we can cut,” Clark said. “I guess we’ll have to see what we can cut out and decrease, see what capital projects we can push back and do that if necessary, and continue to look into grants. (Grants) have been very helpful for us.”

Moore said raising taxes is an obvious option, but that she doesn’t “want to raise taxes because taxes are already high here.”

Zebulon raised property taxes 1.25 cents to 52.5 cents per $100 of property value as part of this year’s budget, which was passed without the expectation of reciving any hold harmless funds.

“We really don’t need to cut back on jobs here, either, because people need to work,” Moore said, referring to the idea of laying off town employees. “We need to get a grant that would help us toward this money.”

York mentioned federal grants that could help cover the cost of fire protection and improve insurance rates for residents, but said those are just some of many grant options the town needs to research.

“It probably won’t be enough to total (the hold harmless funding), but it would help some,” York said.

York also said ongoing development in town might help balance the expected loss of funding by generating more tax base.

Both Anne-Marie Mazur and her husband Michael Mazur, also challengers in the race for seats on the town board, say the solution lies at town hall.

Anne-Marie Mazur said Zebulon’s town hall building is too large with respect to the size of the town staff. She also said the town staff is overpaid, that not all staff positions are necessary and that the town has too many vehicles.

“(The building) is very expensive for the town to maintain and it’s not likely to be filled in the near future,” she said. “That’s a large part of the drain of the finances. And for the size of this town, I think there’s an excessive size of the staff and excessive pay going on with that staff.”

Michael Mazur said he doesn’t have a plan to make up for the likely loss of funding, other than to be proactive if elected. He said the town board knew hold harmless funding was a 10-year reimbursement program when it was first enacted in 2002, and that the board should have done more to prepare for the funding to end.

“That’s why I want to join the board of commissioners – to be able to sit on the panel and discuss options,” Michael Mazur said. “ ... to have a plan in place, be informed about (an issue) prior to it happening and not wait to the last second to send the mayor and the town manager down there to beg Pat McCrory for money they knew was going to be taken away several years before.”

Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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