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UPDATE: Wake Forest approves budget with monthly garbage fee

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WAKE FOREST — The Wake Forest Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the town’s 2020-21 operating budget Tuesday, which will add a new $21 monthly fee for garbage service starting January.

The total general fund budget is $56.06 million, while the electrical fund budget is another $22.65 million.

The tax rate is 49.5 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. This rate is 3.5 cents above the revenue-neutral tax rate and 2.5-cents less than the previous year’s property tax rate.

The tax rate includes 1.5 cents for transportation needs, which should yield more than $996,000 per year, and 0.5 cents for affordable and workforce housing, which should yield more than $332,000 per year.

The downtown service district tax, electric rates and vehicle fees remain the same. An ongoing electric rate study will be completed in August. Any rate changes will not go into effect until October.

Solid waste fee

A separate residential solid waste fee will begin Jan. 1, 2021. 

In previous years, the cost of garbage service was included as part of the tax rate. 

The fee’s base rate is $21 per month and covers the cost of collecting trash, recyclables and yard waste. The fee will be included as a separate line item on a resident’s water bill and is comparable to other municipalities’ fees, town officials said.

Commissioners Bridget Wall-Lennon and Adam Wright both raised concerns about how residents on fixed incomes would be affected by separating the solid waste fee from the property tax rate. 

Wall-Lennon worried the rate would cause those on fixed incomes to have their water shut off while Wright worried it may not be equitable because people who owned lower-valued homes would pay a proportionally higher amount than those with higher-valued homes.

However, if the town kept using property taxes to pay for the cost of solid waste service, this year’s tax rate would be higher than 49.5 cents, Mayor Vivian Jones said. Officials didn’t immediately know how much higher taxes would be. Aileen Staples, chief financial officer, estimated it could be as much as 6 cents. 

Most towns charge a separate solid waste fee rather than including it as part of their tax rate, and the average fee is $22 among towns that have merged their water and sewer systems with Raleigh’s, said Staples.

Budget challenges

The town expects sales tax revenue to drop around 5.25% due to COVID-19. It also expects a property tax collection rate of 98%.

The town is balancing its budget with $812,400 from the fund balance — or the town’s “rainy day” savings. These funds are earmarked for one-time capital purchases.

After this appropriation, the unassigned fund balance will be 19.58% of budgeted expenditures, which is more than double the rate the Local Government Commission recommends.

The budget reclassifies the assistant to the town manager as an assistant town manager and a solid waste driver to a collection coordinator as well as adding 17 full-time positions, including a second assistant town manager.

Most towns of Wake Forest’s size have two assistant managers. This move allows the town to “catch up,” said Wake Forest Manager Kip Padgett.

The town is funding five outside agencies for a total of $30,000, including the town’s membership dues to the Chamber of Commerce.

The police department budget is $12.89 million. Most of this is associated with personnel. It also includes replacing vehicles, which serve as mobile offices for most police officers, and cameras per the town’s replacement schedule. 

The fire department budget is $10.42 million — a new addition because the Wake Forest Fire Department is merging with the town in July. Most of the budget is personnel costs as the town will be taking on 84 full-time positions and 24 part-time positions plus five fire stations. 

The largest capital expense is a $1.4 million aerial drone ladder truck that was ordered before the fire department merged with the town, Padgett said.

“There are some things that are really important in this budget. I want the citizens to know that we don’t take this lightly. We spent a lot of time looking through it,” said Commissioner Chad Sary. “We as elected officials and as a town really have three main responsibilities when it comes to a budget, and that’s to protect our citizens, to provide for their quality of life and to be responsible with tax dollars. I feel like we’ve done the best we can do in the situation that we have with the budget that’s been proposed.”

Commissioner Jim Dyer made the motion to approve the budget, which Sary seconded. The budget passed unanimously and will go into effect July 1.

Other business

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners: 

  • Approved the Rogers Branch Road extension agreement. Sassom will extend the road to Forestville Road to alleviate some of the congestion that occurs in the area and then be reimbursed by the town, which will cost the town less than if it designed and constructed the 200-feet long gap.
  • Approved a motion to increase the manager’s salary by 7% to $187,727 plus a car allowance of $3,500. May Jones said the increase was justified because of Padgett’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased difficulty of his job due to the fire department merger.
  • Updated the town’s definition of a juvenile to match the state’s definition of a person age 17 or younger. The definition applies to certain criminal statutes and ordinances.
  • Held public hearings on the annexation of a portion of the Rogers Branch road right-of-way and for property on Old Crawford Road. The vote on both annexations is scheduled for July 7.
  • Approved annexations submitted by Franklin Village, Merritt-WF 1 and Crenshaw Trace.
  • Accepted a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a downtown mural project.
  • Congratulated seven police officers on their promotions.