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Town Council Approves 2019 Budget

06/03/2019

Town Council Approves 2019-2020 Budget

Town Council marked Clayton's historic transition from a small to medium-sized town Monday night, with the 4-1 passage of the 2019 Fiscal Year Budget, which will leverage $70 million dollars of investments in streets, public safety, and parks and recreation over the next decade. 

The budget, which will hold the Clayton tax rate at $0.58, coincides with the state-mandated Johnston County revaluation year, which brought up property values throughout the area and will result in higher annual tax bills. This budget is expected to impact the average Clayton resident by adding about $28.66 more a month in increased utility fees and Clayton property taxes. (Note: everyone's valuation will be different and we encourage residents to calculate their individual increase and explore an appeal should they feel their homes valuation is inaccurate - click here to see the typical impact and how to calculate your increase). All Council members referred to the budget as the most difficult of their time in public service.

"This year was probably the hardest, but one of the best times we had working with a budget because we spent hours and hours and hours – cutting and questioning, and cutting and questioning, and cutting again," said Councilman Bobby Bunn, who has lived in Clayton 57 years and praised this budget's proposed $1.1 million dollars in street improvements, more than double the amount called for in years past. "Some say we need to lower the tax rate...well, we could. But then you’ll be sitting out there next week saying, ‘Why aren’t the roads getting any better?’ You hear people say, ‘Why don’t we have a Chic-fil-A?’ You hear people say, 'Why don’t we have this?' and 'Why don’t we have that?' It’s simple...because we’ve been kicking the can down the road so many years. Putting things off for the next year or two years before we could do another bond, etc. It’s time for us to take that final step and if we vote tonight I would vote to carry Clayton to the next level.” 

"I’ve spent over 75 hours specifically on this budget," said Mayor Pro Tem Michael Grannis, who credited fiscal responsibility of this and past Council's that helped the town achieve such a great AA bond rating to allow for low-interest borrowing. "I’ve asked more than 235 questions of staff. But the reason I share that is because I care and I know every person on this board cares. We’re concerned about the increase, but at the end of the day, and I can only speak for myself, I truly believe in my heart that it is in the citizens’ and the town’s best interest to leave this tax rate where it is."

For the first time, this Clayton budget is tied to a comprehensive 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which prioritizes spending for the town and can achieve 31 different projects that will upgrade our existing infrastructure and equipment needs as the town transitions to a medium-sized community that still feels like home. Click this link to see the projects list which range from a new fire station needed to provide better coverage for residents...to accessibility improvements for public buildings and streets or those with disabilities.

The CIP also includes 4 parks improvements that would be part of a November bond referendum. Voters will consider an $18 million bond that will authorize the Town to take advantage of low-interest borrowing for numerous parks and recreation related capital projects to serve seniors, special needs and populations of all ages.  Improvements are being proposed for the town’s oldest park, Municipal Park, along with East Clayton Community where a playground is being designed to accommodate children of all abilities, Community Park and the popular Clayton Community Center, where a partnership with Johnston County Senior Services will bring expanded space for senior programming. Like the budget, the proposed bond would not call for a tax rate increase.

Four people spoke during the public hearing on the budget, including former Town Councilman Bob Ahlert who claimed there was too much in the CIP. Retired resident Bart Bloom, who said he appealed his property revaluation twice with the county and achieved a reduction to a 5% increase, posed the question to every elected official as to whether they'd have approved this same budget had it NOT been a revaluation year. A revenue neutral budget was estimated at a $0.49 tax rate. 

“I’ve lived in this Town 61 years and I love this town," said Councilman Bob Satterfield who served during a large tax increase alongside former Councilman Bob Ahlert. "Your question was, 'Would we raise the taxes 9 cents?' For what we’re trying to do for the Town of Clayton and its citizens, yes, we would. Bob, you can remember the year we rose 9 cents at one time. 9 cents. I would do it again. I feel like we’re doing this for the citizens and the Town. We are not a sleepy little small town anymore, we’re growing into a middle-sized town – and it costs a lot of money. And I don’t like my taxes going up either. My property value is going up though.”  

Councilman Art Holder concurred. 

“This is my 10 or 11th budget and it’s been the hardest one that I’ve sat through," he said. "The easiest one was when we had the recession. Because then we just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. We got through the recession with our reserves staying where they were supposed to. You question was, would I have voted to increase taxes without the revaluation? The CIP had been discussed before the revaluation. Everything this town needs…I didn’t say wants…it's everything this town needs to get us to where we need to be. We’ve ignored some things during the past 10 years. Yes, I would have voted to increase taxes.” 

The one dissenting vote came from Councilman Jason Thompson. 

“I still think there’s a lot of work to be done with regard to wants vs. need," said Thompson. "I think we’ve got some fat that we could trim. And I also feel like we could do something. No, I don’t feel like we need to go back to revenue neutral, but I feel like we could go somewhere to a mid-point and still accomplish a lot of the things that we want to do. I am worried about those who are on fixed incomes, that can’t afford to see $30 increase in their bill a month. That’s a substantial amount of money for a lot of people. This has been a very good process, there’s been so much work that’s gone into this from the staff level to us – this is the most we’ve ever met on budget for sure. But I’m not satisfied we’ve cut enough"

While he is not a voting member of Council, Mayor Jody McLeod argued it wasn't cutting but investing with taxes that has helped Clayton earn it's reputation as one of the best places to live and raise a family. He said its in part taxing that has yielded us a quality of life that has attracted investments like the $2 billion Novo Nordisk expansion. 

"Just this past week, I got a Census email that told me our current population is 22,850 people," said Mayor McLeod. "That's up 41% from where it was 10 years ago! And if we don’t take action today, what is it going to be in 10 years? How much more is it going to cost the citizens in Clayton in 10 years? So I’m proud of this Council for the hard work that you’ve done. I’m in agreement with Jason, we could probably battle this {budget} thing out for another 4 months, and trim, trim, trim. But we really are going from that small town to that mid-sized town...and this is a growing pain. I don’t like paying taxes either, but I like seeing where my tax money is being spent. And I think that’s the appreciation the citizens of the Town of Clayton have."  

HIGHLIGHTS AND FEE/COST INCREASES:

  • STREETS EMERGE AS TRUE PRIORITY: The clear priority in this year's budget is the Town's transportation infrastructure - our streets, sidewalks and greenways. This means adding 1) new streets to ease congestion, 2) resurfacing and repairing existing ones, 3) adding and repairing sidewalks to keep Clayton pedestrian friendly,4) improving and adding parking, and 5) extending greenways to help connect recreation amenities and bring visitors to Clayton. Whereas in 2015, the town was budgeted to spend $550,000 on street repair and replacement, this budget proposes to spend more than double...just over $1.4 Million. 
  • PUBLIC SAFETY & STAFFING: adding full-time firefighters to replace part-time, additional inspectors and the town's first-ever dedicated storm water staff.
  • SEWER FEE INCREASE: Faced with a 54-year-old wastewater treatment plant that is approaching capacity, the budget approved a 9% water/sewer rate increase which means the average in-Town Clayton homeowner (consuming 5,000 gallons of water/month) will see a $11.72 increase per month combined for water/sewer beginning July 1. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) mandates that prior to a treatment facility reaching 80% of the system’s permitted capacity, it MUST have an engineer evaluate its future wastewater treatment, utilization and disposal needs. Over the last year, Town staff have been working with engineering consultants The Wooten Company to evaluate the current and future wastewater capacity needs of the Town. Based on growth projections, the Town will need to expand our capacity and build a new plant within the next 5-years. The process for a municipality to design, permit and build a new plant takes about 4 years which is why process is underway now. Clayton is experiencing the same pressure that water and wastewater systems across the state are experiencing and we are not alone in seeing rising costs and rates- click here to learn more. Staff and Council recognized the significant impact on residents, especially those on fixed incomes. That's why they asked staff repeatedly and over the course of 6 months of public hearings to continually search for options that would have the least impact on rate payers. The final option to build a new wastewater treatment plan reduced the expected impact on typical customers from those rates originally proposed. Rate will likely continue to rise in future years to keep up with rising costs, but town will utilize a new rate model to guide any changes.
  • SOLID WASTE FEE INCREASE: To avoid adding additional staff and replacing aging equipment, the Town is capitalizing on the incredibly successful contracting relationship that residents have enjoyed with All Star Waste. So this budget recommends outsourcing loose leaf collection to All Star, which is currently a duty of town staff. Adding loose leaf to their contract, rising recycling costs, and a Consumer Price Index adjustment, will lead to a $2.43 pass along increase per month for solid waste. The current $18.07 monthly charge would rise to $20.50 on July 1.  

The Town Manager first presented the recommended FY 2019-2020 balanced budget on May 20th. You can view the presentation from that meeting here or listen in to the audio from that meeting here. 

You can listen to audio from last night's meeting hereYou can view the Town Manager's updated budget presentation given at the June 3rd meeting by clicking here.  The budget runs July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. 

You can view the full Town Council agenda packet online here, or click here to download a PDF copy.

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