Published: Apr 05, 2012 03:15 PM
Modified: Apr 05, 2012 03:16 PM
Holly Springs council weighs tax hike
Holly Springs leaders weigh tax increase for new parks
HOLLY SPRINGS - As budget season dawns, town leaders are trying to decide how they’ll use the $20 million “credit card” that voters approved by a wide margin last fall. They’re also thinking about how to pay the bill.The Holly Springs Town Council met on Monday to sort the list of parks, greenways and buildings the new debt may fund. The meeting was only a start to months of planning, and the plan for now remains unresolved – including the possibility of a residential tax rate hike.At the Monday meeting, council members agreed that artificial field turf, field lighting and new property purchases top their wishlist. But they didn’t have enough information about the town’s finances and costs, they said, to nix or approve a much longer list of projects, from a small water park to a $3.8 million gymnasium.Tax debateThe park projects’ fate depends largely on funding from taxpayers, and the council is now debating how much of a tax hike they should implement, if any. Town staff have sketched plans around a hike of one cent or two cents per $100 valuation. Each cent equals $10 more taxes on a $100,000 home.Not everyone is on board. Councilwoman Linda Hunt Williams campaigned on the idea that the town would fit the new parks “within our budget and pay for it with growth,” she said on Thursday. The tax-dependent roadmaps revealed last month “may not have been shocking to the other council members, but it was shocking to me.”In the run-up to the debt vote, Budget Director Drew Holland said the new projects could necessitate a tax hike of up five cents or more, or perhaps none at all, depending on the council’s actions. No council members have spoken as strongly as Williams against the proposed increase, and support for a tax rate increase likely enjoys majority support. “In my humble opinion, the voters voted on a tax increase, and we seem to be debating whether we’re going to have a tax increase or not to have a tax increase,” said Councilman Chet VanFossen. “If we don’t do something, we are letting down the voters who voted to have the bond.”Details neededThe council’s most-definite decision so far is that it needs more information. They want to know more about some projects’ costs, and they say they need a better picture of the town’s future finances before they make decisions.“We’re looking at everything from no tax increase to a one- or two-cent increase. We don’t know what our income is going to be” said Councilman Tim Sack, adding that a new police station and a major road extension are already set to strain next year’s budget.Town staff have made early projections of what they could do with new tax money.With a one-cent, or 2.5 percent, tax hike, town staff estimate they could afford $5.2 million of park land and improvements by 2015, including new fields and a dog park on 25 acres of Progress Energy land; $2.4 million of turf, lights, tennis courts and trails at Womble Park; $700,000 of greenways; and $1 million for a water park, playground and dock at Jones Park.A two-cent, 5 percent hike would fund the same, minus the Progress fields, plus a $3.8 million stand-alone gym and another $500,000 of greenways, all to be underway by 2015, according to a staff presentation.The park planned for the wooded Mims property near downtown is not in the draft plans, but could be added later.“We got a good start today, but we need to know more about how much some things are going to cost, how much we can leverage through grants and corporation partnerships, and how we can fit in some projects that have developed since we first began the parks and recreation bond referendum,” Town Manager Carl Dean said, according to meeting minutes.The council may discuss the bonds as early as its meeting Tuesday, and will likely lay a firmer plan as it plots the town’s budget this spring.
Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary