CARY — Town leaders are asking for suggestions from the public on how they should prioritize spending in next year’s budget.
Residents can share their ideas during a public hearing Thursday evening at Town Hall. Cary is also collecting input through email and social media.
The town plans to hold more public meetings in May, when staff is expected to draft a budget for the Town Council. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Cary has made it a point since 2006 to involve residents early on in the budget-writing process.
The town received a record number of comments – 116 – last year, the first time it collected feedback through Facebook and Twitter. In 2012, the town received 59 suggestions.
Some residents have used the public forum to point out specific problems such as pothole-ridden roads or faltering street lights.
While Cary welcomes any concerns residents have, the town tries to address urgent issues separately from the budget discussions, said Karl Knapp, Cary’s budget director.
The town hopes residents will offer direction on big-picture spending, Knapp said.
“If people think certain programs should be getting more money, this is the time to say something,” he said.
Knapp added: “If they think we’re spending too much in a particular area, this would be an opportunity to say that as well.”
Of course, the budget is only so flexible. Cary needs to spend a certain amount of money on some things to maintain the necessary level of service, Knapp noted.
For example, Cary is spending $134.5 million of its current $306.6 million budget on utilities and utility projects.
The town is spending $42.5 million on public safety, its second-highest expense, and $33 million on general government functions.
Citizen input is mostly taken into consideration when Cary discusses how it should spend additional resources, Knapp said. Those resources become available when, say, the town collects more tax revenues than expected.
For years, residents asked Cary to improve its downtown, said Cary spokeswoman Deanna Boone.
The town has since spent millions to upgrade the Cary Arts Center and to renovate The Cary theater while also planning a downtown park.
The parks, recreation and cultural resources department garnered the most attention last year from residents’ feedback.
Some asked for improvements to Bond Park. Some questioned the town’s approach to visual art, such as the $40,000 clay structure Cary put at the intersection of South Academy Street and Dry Avenue.
Cary later moved the structure out of downtown to Pleasants Avenue and Kildaire Farm Road.
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht