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Share Your Input on 2018-19 Budget

05/04/2018

Town Council will schedule a hearing for its May 21 regularly-scheduled meeting, inviting the public to share its thoughts on the proposed 2018-19 Town budget. Town Manager Adam Lindsay presented his recommended balanced budget to the Council at a workshop on Tuesday, with total expenditures and revenues matching at $25,689,002 for the General Fund, $20,486,792 for the Water & Sewer Fund and $13,884,253 for the Electric Fund…for a total budget for Clayton of $60,060,047. Initial department requests came in $7 million over the predicted general fund revenues of $23.9 million. Department heads also requested 31 positions. During the past few weeks, staff worked to make tough choices on where to reduce, closing that $7 million gap and landing on requesting 12 positions with start dates that vary through the fiscal year.

When Clayton leaders proposed last year’s $51.2 million spending plan, the newspaper headline read “Clayton Budget Maintains Status Quo: Budget will keep the lights on, but not much else.” Top priority projects aimed at improving the quality of life stayed on the cutting room floor. The headline this year might be just the opposite: “Clayton Bucks Status Quo: Preserves Services, Covers Costs, But Also Lays Groundwork for Clayton to Better Transition from Small to Medium-Sized Town.”   

The budget calls for 3-cent property tax increase for a total proposed rate of 58 cents for every $100 of property value. For the median home value in Clayton, that means about a $48 increase in the annual tax bill, equating to about $4 a month. One penny on the tax rate will generate approximately $184,000 in Clayton, with the proposed increase generating about $550,000 in new revenue to dedicate to needed immediate projects like fixing streets, increasing downtown parking, or improving parks. That revenue will become debt service payments toward some significant capital projects within three years.

“This is a path for our staff and town leaders to lay a foundation for how Clayton is going to embrace moving from a small town to the medium-sized town that we are already becoming,” said Town Manager Adam Lindsay. “When I look back at my predecessor 20 years ago, this town was in dire financial straits, it was struggling to get out of a hole because the Town literally had no money. They righted the ship. With the Council’s guidance and leadership along the years, Clayton is now in good shape financially and ready to build the foundation for the next 20 years.”

Like two decades ago, the Mayor and Town Council know Clayton has reached another critical and pivotal moment. In past retreats and in the hiring of new Town manager, they made it clear they wanted to take Clayton to the next level. They’ve made it clear to management and staff that the “next level” cannot be reached without some additional revenues and forward thinking to position Clayton to manage growth and hopefully sustainability through the future. They did not ask staff to reduce the services Clayton offers, so this budget holds the line with some increases in areas they with think would bring good. Council members agreed they don’t like these increases, but they feel they are necessary. And one thing they made clear – if they approve them, they expect to see results right away.

The proposed budget would allow for:

  • Street Improvements - $1,256,088
  • Downtown Parking Lot Expansion - $400,000 (both sides of The Clayton Center near Town Square)
  • First Street – Railroad Parking - $99,777 (developer sought to contribute nearly half)
  • 8 new Police Vehicles and Equipment - $457,135
  • Two New Police Officers - $133,891 (grant money paying 85% in 1st year)
  • Fire Department Pumper Tanker - $588,720 (paid for entirely by Claytex Fire District tax)
  • Sidewalk Projects - $69,000
  • Sam’s Branch Trail Head and Paving - $121,200 (on top of the upcoming $2.2 million federally-funded greenway tunnel & extension of Sam’s Branch – with only 20% local share)
  • Digital Upgrade for Council Chambers - $40,564
  • School Crossing Guards - $11,949 (grant money sought with Johnston County Schools)
  • Water Line Improvements - $283,155
  • Sewer Line Improvements - $2,147,501
  • Electric System Expansion - $885,750
  • Sesquicentennial Anniversary Celebration - $30,000

Critical areas this budget addresses include:

Streets

“The infrastructure of your community defines your community,” said Lindsay. “You can become known for things. Clayton has some bad streets and the rate of decline is increasing. How do we get the revenue to pay for those streets? One way is to tax the cars that drive on them.”

That’s why the budget proposes increasing the $5 & annual Municipal Vehicle Tag Tax to a $30 annual fee, the maximum allowed by law. Analysis from a recent study addressing Clayton’s deteriorating streets estimated the town needs to spend $1 million a year to keep up. With roughly $500,000 from the state Powell funds, that leaves about half million more for the town to cover. The vehicle tax increase would generate $375,000 in its first year. And what’s most important, this money is restricted and MUST be used for street related projects.

One of those projects will be to complete an extension of Payton Drive from the Riverwood community to Covered Bridge Road. Because that community is more than 5 miles from the Clayton Fire Department, the Town of Clayton contracts with Archer Lodge Fire Department to respond to this part of town. By paving and extending Payton and creating a closer entrance from downtown, much of the Riverwood community will now fall within that 5-mile response area. While a mutual aid agreement will always be in effect, that’s $125,000 the Town of Clayton will NOT have to pay every year to a neighboring fire department to cover town residents. It’s a critical connection for our community that will be made possible by the $25 annual increase in the vehicle tax.

Water and Sewer

This is an area where the Town of Clayton is undergoing incredible pressure to meet demand, with expanding industry and residential growth. This is also an area where we can’t wait for things to break before addressing – providing clean drinking water and properly disposing of water are essential services. But they are services not fully under our control. We buy our water from Johnston County and the county also helps us treat waste. The county will be charging us 5% more and so residents will see a 5% increase for both water and sewer fees. Another 5% increase for both is needed to help Clayton manage rising costs. An independent consultant has stated the Town needs a new $1.9 million elevated water tank. Two new positions will help us focus proactively on preventive maintenance which saves time and costs over the long run. Future budgets will need to address the need to build a new wastewater treatment plant that could cost more than $90 million.

Garbage, Recycling & Yard Waste

We haven’t stopped hearing about how much residents are loving their service from All Star Waste! The Town of Clayton spent more than 20 years with Waste Management, but then amazingly, was able to negotiate a new contract, with a new vendor, without raising fees AND increasing service! For the same price, residents have been enjoying weekly recycling, instead of once a week, and no longer have to pay or schedule for weekly bulk waste pick-up.  That same great service will continue, but this budget proposes a 50-cent monthly increase. Part of that increase is due to Johnston County’s landfill increasing the fees to bring waste to its facility. The other portion is due to increases in the Consumer Price Index or CPI – costs to provide this service are simply on the rise throughout the country.

Smart Meters

Over the next two years, water and electric customers will begin to have a lot more power at their fingertips as the Town transitions to smart meters. Beginning in May or June of 2019, residents will see an additional $2 per meter per month on their utility bills to pay for this upgrade. It will no longer require a meter reader to come by your home, reducing human error, but smart meters (or Advanced Metering Infrastructure - AMI) puts control and power back in the hands of the customer. Residents will be able to monitor their consumption of water or electricity in REAL TIME. If you’re out of Town, smart meters can alert you of a leak or a power outage. The Town can also get notifications when we see an unusual spike, allowing us to head of costly or damaging problems. It will help inform you of how efficient your energy or water use may be. Another benefit, starting or stopping service can be done right from Town Hall in minutes. If you’re moving into a home on Friday, you may no longer have to wait until Monday to have your utilities manually turned on. If your account is paid, we just need a few minutes. Again, the $2 monthly meter charge for water and electric would not begin until late Spring of 2019.

How would this proposed tax increase affect me?
The median cost of a home in Clayton is $162,000. So average homeowner might see an increase of about $48 a year in property taxes. Assuming the average homeowner has two cars, the vehicle tax would go up $50 a year ($25 more a year). And just about $16 more for utility fee increases, for a total of the average homeowner of $24.74 more in monthly taxes and bills.

The 2018-19 Clayton budget is one that recognizes that growth is here, and in order to sustain it, both for infrastructure and quality of life needs and interests, it will take additional dollars and careful planning.

Again, members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on the recommended proposed budget at the public hearing Monday, May 21 at 6 p.m. This is the second time the Town has sought public input on the 2018-19 budget. Following the public hearing, the Council will likely vote on adoption of the budget.

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