Budget approved with 1-cent hike for fire service.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Town commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve the $56 million 2014-15 town budget.
The dissenters were Zachary Donahue and Greg Harrington, who objected to raising town taxes by one cent per $100 in property valuation to fund the staffing of Fire Station No. 4 on Jenkins Road.
For a person with a $200,000 house, that would mean an increase of $20 in property taxes on the residence.
The station will be built later this year by the nonprofit Wake Forest Fire Department on land that had to be annexed into the town and is on the periphery of town limits.
Wake Forest Fire answers numerous rural calls and Wake County offers minimal funding for the department. So Harrington and Donahue said the town should wait for the results of a study now being conducted by Wake County’s fire services committee to re-evaluate how much it pays fire departments for fire services in rural areas.
“While I appreciate the job very much the fire department does and understand the need for an additional station, I think that it’s premature to assess a tax increase without knowing (results of) the study underway to determine the proper share the county should pay,” said Donahue. “Until we know that number, I believe it’s premature to shift that burden from the county to the town taxpayers.”
This reasoning drew a rebuke from Commissioners Anne Hines and Margaret Stinnett.
Noting that residents have been shouldering the burden for the county for a long time, Stinnett cited Fire Chief Ron Early’s insistence that the residents in the northwest quadrant of town need quicker response times too.
“I believe that it is inappropriate for us to not protect a percentage of citizens in the town of Wake Forest with the fire protection that they deserve because the county is going to benefit from it at the same time,” Stinnett said.
Added Hines, “The idea that you can’t ever raise taxes is ridiculous.”
Commissioner Jim Thompson was absent from the meeting due to a delayed flight, and the vote deadlocked. Mayor Vivian Jones broke the tie with a vote for the budget and tax hike.
The estimated $700,000 cost to fully train and staff the new station’s 12-person crew is greater than the amount the one-cent increase will bring in. It’s estimated that town taxes will have to be hiked another penny next year, unless additional funding is obtained from Wake County.
The building will be constructed mostly using fire impact fees.
The new town tax rate is 52 cents per $100 valuation. Also approved as part of the budget was a deposit increase from $50 to $100 for community pool rentals.
The budget represents a growth of $3.3 million in revenues and expenses since last year.
New hires that will be made at year’s end include a communications specialist whose job includes, in part, keeping up with social media; a planner to focus on transportation issues; two park maintenance crewmen; and a public facilities specialist.
•Development delay: Commissioners briskly made their way through the remainder of the agenda, in part because the one contentious item, the vote on the planned new Tryon Wake Forest subdivision off Copper Beech Lane, was delayed a month at the developer’s request. Developer’s representative Chuck Walker was present; he said they’re working through some changes based on objections raised at the June 3 planning board meeting.
•Cash grant: Commissioners approved, without comment, channeling a $90,000 grant from the Futures Fund to 3Phoenix, a Wake Forest military tech contractor, as an incentive for their current expansion, which is expected to add 110 new jobs. The fund is used to encourage existing companies to retain or expand employment or to encourage new development.
•Condemned: An abandoned house at 330 E. Spring St. was acquired from the Katie Hargrove heirs for $52,000 so the town can raze it and complete the Caddell Street paving and road improvement project. The condemnation was necessary because town staff have been unable to reach all the heirs.
•Name change: Hines also announced that she officially changed her last name to Reeve, to match her husband Mike Reeve.