Proposed Raleigh budget would raise taxes to repave city streets

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 21, 2014 

  • Weigh in

    A public hearing on the proposed budget – and the 2.12 cent tax rate increase – is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 3 at City Hall, 222 W. Hargett St.

— Starting in July, city property owners could see a 2.12-cent tax rate hike, in part to fund repaving work for a backlog of crumbling streets around Raleigh.

The property tax increase is part of City Manager Ruffin Hall’s proposed $750.56 million budget, which was presented to the City Council Tuesday.

Voters approved a 1.12-cent rate increase last fall when they passed a $75 million transportation bond issue to widen some of Raleigh’s busiest roads.

The additional penny increase would raise about $5.15 million to repave about 30 miles of streets each year. Though the state is responsible for major roads in Raleigh, the city maintains about 1,000 miles of streets, and about 10 percent are considered “below standard.”

At Raleigh’s current pace of repaving, each street would get a new coat of asphalt once every 100 years. “This is something that was probably the most startling piece of budget information I reviewed,” Hall, who became city manager in November, said.

The proposed tax increase equates to about $63 per year in additional taxes for a $300,000 home.

George Sharpley of the Wake County Taxpayers Association says that’s too much.

“We need to find out where all the money from the Powell Bill went,” Sharpley said, pointing to state funds earmarked for street maintainance. “That’s what’s supposed to be funding that.”

Hall says the Powell Bill funding isn’t enough to cover Raleigh’s needs, and the state legislature isn’t likely to increase the money. Without more frequent paving cycles, the city risks the level of pavement failure that would force it to replace an entire street. That’s what the state is currently doing on the southern Beltline, a costly project that will result in years of traffic hassles.

“You have to dig it out all the way to the base, and it’s exponentially more expensive,” Hall said.

City Council members voiced initial support for Hall’s paving plan, but they said major roads will still have problems. “You have a whole lot of state roads in the City of Raleigh, and we’re losing out,” Councilman Eugene Weeks said.

Hall’s budget proposal also would increase the garbage fee by $1 to $13.30 per month. City leaders want much of the trash service to pay for itself; the monthly fee currently covers about 63 percent of the service cost, with other city revenues making up the difference.

Utility rates would also rise, with the average resident paying an additional $4.27 per month for water and sewer service.

In addition to the street improvements, the proposed budget includes about $5.6 million for employee raises, which would range from 2 percent to 4 percent depending on where workers falls within their salary range. Workers on the lower end of their salary range would see a 4 percent raise, while those on the higher end – mostly veteran employees – would get 2 percent. Hall also recommends increasing the city’s retirement contribution from 2 percent to 3 percent of each worker’s salary.

The budget proposal also calls for adding new positions in city government and funding several new efforts, including:

• Nine new police officers – the first expansion in the police force since 2008.

• Thirty new fire department positions to staff a new station in Northwest Raleigh.

• $3.7 million toward the replacement of a 55-year-old fire station on Fairview Road.

• Ten new jobs in public works ($1.44 million) as part of a new concrete crew to repair sidewalks and a new asphalt crew to handle potholes and street patching.

• Eleven new positions to staff new facilities opening in the new fiscal year, including Horseshoe Farm Park, Lake Johnson Woodland Center, Northeast Remote Operations Center and the Walnut Terrace Neighborhood Center.

• $2 million to fund the long-delayed Peace Street West streetscape project, which would create a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly connection between Glenwood South and Cameron Village.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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