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Program spending, bond issue discussed
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Tempers flared during a spending discussion Tuesday at a Wake Forest town board work session.
It wasn’t about $25 million in possible bond issue spending, rather $34,000 in small projects sparked the debate.
Continuing a discussion from a budget work session last week, commissioners talked about modifying Town Manager Mark Williams’ 2013-14 budget recommendation to help out the 4th of July Committee with an extra $6,000 for the 40th annual fireworks celebration.
And they agreed last week to help the Wake Forest Historical Museum pay for exterior lighting to the tune of $4,000.
But they also removed $30,000 in seed money slated for Mayor Vivian Jones’ Roots to Renaissance initiative to empower volunteers and community groups to improve the community through education, healthy living, heritage and the arts.
One person suggested the Futures Fund revenues should be used to fund the initiative. The fund was created with monies obtained from the sale of property with the purpose of boosting economic development.
The Roots and museum funding issues resurfaced Tuesday, creating some conflict.
“I’m very much in favor of continuing to fund the Roots to Renaissance program,” Jones said.
She criticized the museum’s request, however, asking whether the property managers know how to operate the museum in a sound fiscal manner.
“It’s been open two years. Did they have a business plan of how they were going to run it when they opened it?” Jones asked.
Commissioner Margaret Stinnett offered a quick rebuke.
“You are opening a can of worms,” she warned, bringing up a project the board has funded to the tune of more than a million dollars.
“The Wireless [Research] Center is also a nonprofit. It’s been two years,” she added, referencing the continued funding requests for operating costs its partners have made.
“I wouldn’t take [Roots] out of the Futures Fund because that’s not what Futures Fund is all about,” Commissioner Anne Hines interjected.
"What is the Futures Fund all about, Anne?” Stinnett posed.
“Economic development,” Hines responded.
“And what’s the definition of economic development?” Stinnett countered.
“Better paying jobs. Upper management jobs. Putting North Carolina on the map,” Hines responded.
No vote was made Tuesday. Commissioners will decide which elements to include in the fiscal year 2013-14 budget at their next regular meeting.
Bonds likely for 2014
Also, during a discussion about potential bond projects, town commissioners looked at a $25 million wish list with dozens of major projects. It’s possible they’ll do them all in 2014.
A presentation by Mitch Brigulio, consultant with Davenport and Co., showed commissioners that even taking into account the $1.2 million they’re borrowing to pay for purchasing the Tuxedo Junction entertainment venue, the town is still in an excellent place to borrow.
“You have the capacity to take on new debt,” he said.
The town has several things going for it. It’s remained in compliance with its own borrowing policy, is in line with other municipalities’ median debts and has an excellent bond rating, Brigulio said.
Commissioners are leaning toward offering voters three bond issues next year that would pay for ballfields and a community center at Joyner Park, major greenway and sidewalk projects, roadway widening concerns and a senior center expansion.
Those bond issues would total $9.1 million, $9.4 million and $6.4 million, respectively, to total the $25 million, but after interest is paid would cost closer to $39 million, assuming a conservative 5-percent interest rate.
If the town’s growth doesn’t pick up again, that much in bond debt could necessitate a 1.9-cent tax hike. But it could also pay for itself without any hike, officials said.
Also last week, following a closed session, commissioners voted to give Williams a 3-percent merit raise.
“We all have the most respect for him and appreciate the job he does for the town,” Jones said.