Commissioners review major expense funding Tuesday; public comment desired.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Every spring, town commissioners hold a special meeting to discuss funding major projects and expenses over the next five years. The projects are listed in the town’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP).
One of the highest priorities on that list is building and manning Wake Forest Fire Station No. 4 for Jenkins Road. Fire Chief Ron Early has put in a request to have it funded within the next three years, but hopes to get it done sooner.
“I would like to build it today. I wanted to build it last year,” he said Wednesday. “We do not want to build a station unless we can secure it with personnel.”
Commissioners were scheduled to hold a work session on the CIP Wednesday night, after press deadline. But they’re also holding a public hearing on the plan during their meeting next Tuesday at town hall.
Expenses listed in the CIP over a multi-year timeframe aids town officials in planning each year’s budget and helps guide commissioners in their year-to-year expense planning.
The nonprofit fire department’s $2.25 million request is the largest public safety item in this year’s CIP.
In contrast, the Wake Forest Police Department is only seeking $186,000 in funding for an additional patrol vehicle, a $45,000 ATV for patrolling greenways and search for missing people, $30,000 in mandatory software expenses and $15,000 to purchase and train a new dog to replace K-9 Kyra.
In Police Chief Jeff Leonard’s request, he cites the more than 1,000 annual traffic accidents for the need of a new cruiser. “[We] would like to start a traffic squad,” he wrote.
Other expenses requested to be funded in the following four years include additional patrol vehicles, replacing a surveillance van and building a backup communications center for $300,000.
Tax hike required
Planning and engineering work for the new fire station is already completed. Construction is expected to cost $1.75 million and another $450,000 is needed for a new engine.
But almost none of that has to be borrowed because there is a sizable balance containing town’s fire impact fees levied on new development, according to Early.
“Fire impact fees the town collects are strictly used for fire department expansion or growth,” he said. “We used it (in part) for Station 3 construction, but at the time there wasn’t a whole lot of money in there. The rest was loans.
“We’re hoping right now there’s enough money in the fire impact fees to pay for the station construction.”
But adding new fire station personnel incurs a significant cost that can’t be paid for in impact fees, because salaries and benefits for a 12-man crew need funding annually.
“Preliminary projections at this time indicate that approximately 2 cents ($750,000) would be needed to equip a fire station with personnel and operating costs,” Early wrote in his CIP expense request.
That’s a two-penny hike on top of the existing fire tax, which is collected by the town. Wake County also levies its own fire tax, distributing its monies across 19 departments.
Eleven of those departments in rural areas, such as Bay Leaf and Stony Hill, rely wholly on that funding, while the other eight that serve municipalities and respond to fires outside city limits receive limited funding.
“Wake Forest does not get that money. [We get] very little from the collected funding,” Early said.
In April, the county is beginning a cost comparison study to determine if those funds are being spent fairly, he added.
The lack of county funding for departments that respond to fires in incorporated areas was questioned last year during the public hearings for the future Jenkins Road station.
But Early, his assistant chiefs and the Wake Forest Fire Department Board of Directors are 100 percent behind the plan to build a new station.
“The purpose of the station more than anything is that 4 to 6 minute response time. That northwest region of the town is lacking in service,” he said. “The town has a higher standard and is more concerned about public safety than the county is.”
If funded, Early expects they’d be in the new station and ready to go in 10-12 months.
Multitude of projects
A capital improvement is defined as any expenditure for equipment, buildings, infrastructure, land acquisition, plan or project in which the cost exceeds $10,000 and the estimated useful life is greater than one year.
Public safety is just one aspect of the CIP commissioners are looking at. They’ll also decide how many parks and greenways to fund (which is tied into discussion of a bond issue to be requested from voters this fall), the construction of facilities such as expanding the Northern Wake Senior Center and additional Renaissance Centre renovations.
Not everything makes the list, and items that are considered lower priority can be pushed back for years or never be funded. The plan for building greenways and sidewalks throughout town includes $61.5 million in costs over the next five years alone; though a large percentage of that cost is expected to be heavily subsidized through federal and state grants.
In parks and recreation, there are requests for sod replacement and a piano for the Renaissance Centre listed as 2014 needs; while a sprayground for Taylor Street Park and a disc-golf course have been bumped a year, at least.
The expansion of Joyner Park is also in the bond issue.
Multimillion dollar improvements to the town’s electric system are also planned for in the CIP, including $2.4 million this year and close to $1 million each year in 2015-19.
Few people have spoken up during CIP public hearings in the past. Wake Forest Commissioner Zachary Donahue would like to see that change, and asks that residents look at the document, or at least the summary on page 4.
“I really above all hope that people look at it and speak at our public hearing,” he said.