Cary gets less feedback on budget

aspecht@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2014 

— Some people want Cary to spend more money on greenways, public transportation and a new ramp at the town’s skate park.

Some others say the town should scale back spending across the board.

But fewer people offered their input about this year’s proposed budget during public hearings and through email and social media. Public input was down 25 percent.

The town received 87 comments this year, down from 116 last year. It was the first time in four years the number of comments has decreased.

A total of 18 people spoke at the two public hearings, down from 23 who spoke out on the recommended budget last year.

The Cary Town Council is set to approve a budget on Thursday. Town Manager Ben Shivar has proposed a $209 million spending plan.

The proposed budget doesn’t call for a tax increase. The property tax rate would hold steady at 35 cents per $100 valuation.

It does, however, include a 3.5 percent increase in utility rates for residential customers who use 4,500 gallons of water or more per month.

The proposed fee hike didn’t draw criticism.

“I think people are pretty satisfied with their water and sewer service and what they’re paying for it,” said Karl Knapp, Cary’s budget director. “It’s just not something that generates a lot of public concern.”

Knapp pointed to a couple reasons that public input might be down this year.

Last year, 11 of the comments submitted asked the town to subsidize a brewery, he said. Fortnight Brewing Company, which is independent from the town, has since opened at the intersection of Chatham Street and Maynard Road.

Last year was also the first time Cary began accepting input through Facebook and Twitter. The town received a combined 61 comments from those sites last year, but only 17 this year.

“It’s possible some of the novelty has worn off,” Knapp said.

The amount of input collected this year is still above the town’s historical average, he noted.

“So I don’t think there’s a lack of public interest,” he said.

There was certainly no lack of interest from supporters of Sk-8 Cary, the town’s skate park off of of NW Maynard Road.

Parents and children have shown up at almost every public hearing to lobby for a new ramp that they say would help skaters improve their skills in a way the park’s current features can’t.

A ramp was not included in the budget because town staff estimated it would cost about $475,000 to buy the ramp and retrofit the skate park to accommodate it.

Council members have, however, asked town staff to find a cheaper way to make the project happen. Staff members plan to present their findings to the council at a meeting this fall, Knapp said.

More than 60 percent of the public input asked the town to spend more money on roads and greenways.

“Please, focus on finishing the missing part of the White Oak Greenway between Davis Drive and MacArthur Park. It will not only help in the completion of the American Tobacco Trail, but it will directly impact and benefit the residents of MacArthur Park,” Paula King wrote to the town on Facebook.

About $185,000 of the proposed budget will go toward a new entrance to the White Oak greenway on Roberts Road, Knapp said.

The town also plans to spend $140,000 to expand C-Tran bus service by two hours.

Cary hopes that $5 million it has directed toward repaving streets will fix the potholes mentioned by residents in several emails, Knapp said.

A couple residents told Cary they’re worried about the town spending too much.

In response, a Cary staff member pointed out that the town has only raised taxes once since 1990.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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