Zebulon leaders raise concerns over finances

amoody@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2014 

— Mayor Bob Matheny summed up his feelings about Zebulon’s 2015 spending plan with one word used repeatedly at a meeting Monday night: concerned.

The first look at the upcoming budget in April showed plans for the town to use about $763,000 from its savings account and nearly $80,000 in capital reserve funds to help balance $8,640,125 in expenditures.

Finance Director Bobby Fitts on Monday said fund balance use is projected to decrease about $30,000, mainly due to updated tax revenue projections. But when the discussion turned to projects slated for financing in coming years, virtually all positivity flew out the window.

The town board reviewed a proposal to finance $313,000 worth of street paving and $176,000 to complete the first phase of a stormwater improvement project on Yates Place as a package deal over the next five years, with payment due in the first year. The annual payment would be about $101,000, according to Fitts.

“Using cash would of course lower our fund balance closer to our minimal levels,” Fitts said. “Completing these projects would satisfy some pretty desperate paving needs and of course the Yates Place problems.”

Streets that score under 80 on a 100-point scale test are in need of repair. The 400-900 blocks of North Wakefield Street and 500 block of North Poplar Street each scored 68 last summer. Portions of six other streets – West Franklin Street, Cambridge Drive, North Poplar Street, Pitt Street, Coventry Drive and North Gill Street – had scores from 73-79.

Yates Place has issues with water that does not drain efficiently enough in a cul de sac at the lower end of the road. The result is flooding for some residents of that area, and standing water down the roadway during persistent rains.

Fitts began presenting another option that took out financing for paving and added in $118,000 cash to pay for spot repairs and crack sealing on streets. In that scenario, the total appropriated fund balance increased to more than $917,000.

Before Fitts finished that point, Commissioner Don Bumgarner interrupted.

“We’re talking about going to the bank or whatever lending institution borrowing $300,000 in addition to the $733,000 that we’re pulling from our general fund, is that correct? A million bucks?” Bumgarner asked. “That’s pretty strong. ... I understand the Yates Place really and truly has to be taken care of, I don’t think there’s any question about that, but the balances of paving might be put off six months or so.”

A happy medium

Matheny suggested the possibility of replacing the paving with street repairs ($75,000 as a starting number) and stretching out the payment of the first Yates Place phase over two years. Fitts said by doing so the town would take a slightly greater hit in the upcoming year in exchange for more obligation for the next four years.

It would leave next year’s fund balance appropriation at about $773,000.

“(The town board) didn’t want to take on any more debt, so that’s why we decided not to and to scale back things,” Fitts said. “They didn’t want to use the extra funding next year either, but it’s kind of necessary.”

Matheny acknowledged the need for paving the numerous spots throughout town, but said desperate times call for desperate measures.

“You know, we’re in hard times ... we got a rainy day fund, and it’s raining,” Matheny said. “We need to watch every penny, because I am really, really concerned that we think we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and what’s the old saying? We hope it’s not a train.

“The optimistic side of me is that the town really is making the turn. We’re seeing a lot of new growth in housing and commercial ... but I’d like to be sure that we’d made that turn before we keep digging that hole.”

To that, Town Manager Rick Hardin replied he can get behind cashing out the Yates Place project and a reduced road patching project.

Finding the money

Other potential cost saving options Fitts gave the board to consider were increasing the vehicle tag decal fee from $5 to $10 (generating $17,000), increasing taxes ($75,000 per one-cent increase) and eliminating the Zebulon-Wendell Express bus service ($7,500 after six-month notice).

The mayor and board indicated they had no issues upping the tag decal fee, and all were opposed to raising taxes and eliminating the bus service.

A poll of commissioners showed approval for taking out paving plans and most were OK with stretching the Yates Place project over the next two years.

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

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