After a year of finishing big-ticket construction projects, Wake Forest and Rolesville are tightening their belts to balance next year's budgets and avoid post-recession turmoil.
The towns, which have been touted as fiscally responsible, are following other Triangle local governments that have had to scale back budgets in the lingering aftermath of the Great Recession by eliminating vacant staff positions, freezing pay increases and putting capital projects on hold.
Both towns' boards of commissioners adopted budgets earlier this month for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Both include cost-cutting measures that will restrict the towns to minimal construction work, such as road paving projects, in order to prevent layoffs and maintain current property tax rates.
"We're trying to get ourselves in position so when economy turns around, we'll be in good shape," said Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones.
That means holding off on large-scale construction projects. The towns hope doing so now will allow them to continue building when the economy rebounds.
Until now, the towns have continued building such projects - such as Wake Forest's new town hall, which opened Monday - because they either were paid for before the market fell, or were landed at bargain prices.
"My hope is that Rolesville will start picking up a little faster," said Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles. "But it's tight."
A year after increasing its operating budget by $1.6 million, Wake Forest's budget for the upcoming year is nearly the same. It's only $600,000 less than the current year's, but the town had to make cuts to get there.
It froze seven vacant positions, won't give cost-of-living adjustments to town employees, and had to decrease funds for capital construction projects by 20 percent. The current year's capital budget was already a 40 percent slash from last year.
Staff will, however, be eligible for merit-based pay increases. The Board of Commissioners approved a 5 percent merit raise for Town Manager Mark Williams, who will make more than $130,000. That irked some residents, who said the raise wasn't fair since others weren't eligible for cost-of-living increases.
Jones defended the raise, citing Williams' role in helping the town achieve its coveted Triple-A bond rating, which is rare for small towns.
Williams said his contract allows him the same benefits and raise options as other employees.
Like the rest of the staff, he won't be eligible for cost-of-living increases under the new budget.
"If anybody is going to get a merit increase, Mark should get it," Jones said.
The town will have to wait at least another year to fill three positions that officials say are needed. One of those is an internal auditor in the finance department, a position Williams said is especially important since the town received the Triple-A rating last November.
Residents also will pay 5 percent more for water and sewer to help finish paying for the merger with Raleigh's services.
When the town began merging services with the city in 2005, the transition of getting all residents hooked up to the city's water and sewer was supposed to be complete by 2012.
It was to be paid for by the difference in Wake Forest and Raleigh's rates - Wake Forest's were higher - and impact fees from new development. But the economy has severely slowed development, and Raleigh has raised its utility rates.
By raising the town's current rates, Williams said the transition now can be complete by 2014.
Part of the town's budget will pay debt service for its streetscape project - a revamping of downtown streets to make them more attractive and pedestrian friendly. The town will finish the remaining two-thirds of design work for the project and, Williams hopes, budget construction funds next year.
"I thought that the staff did a great job of trying to do as much as we could possibly do with limited resources," Jones said.
The town of Rolesville, Wake County's smallest town, has a much smaller operating budget than Wake Forest.
Next year's total budget is actually slightly higher than the current year, because it includes a $142,000 grant from the state that will fund two additional police officers.
The town will pick up the cost of the officers in the next budget.
The town completed work last year on two parks - Millbridge and Main Street.
The latter included walking trails and a picnic area. The town also bought two police cars and updated computers and office equipment.
The only construction budgeted for next year is paving of Scarboro Street north of Main Street.
The town also will allow cost of living increases of 3 percent, something it didn't include in the current year's budget, but won't provide merit raises.
Town Manager Bryan Hicks said the town considered several projects that didn't make the budget, such as 47,000 worth of playground equipment for Main Street Park. Eagles said the current equipment is run down, and he hopes the town can get it in next year's budget.
If more revenue comes in than expected, the town could purchase the equipment sooner.
The town also decided against a $50,000 paving project on Brown Circle.
"We've been ready for the bust," said Eagles. "We've started to see signs it's picking back up. But it's not like it was."