Sunday, June 29, 2008

FY2009 Budget

I’m thankful I have a lot of patience – it’s a result of having six children I’m sure. I don’t know I could have made it through this year’s budget process if I didn’t. ;-) Council needed a total of six – yes six – worksessions (including a couple at 7:00 in the morning) to comb through FY2009’s proposed budget and make adjustments/cuts that at least a majority of council could agree upon. Council “officially” approved the budget at Thursday night’s council meeting.

Some of the highlights of the FY 2009 adopted budget are:
A revenue neutral tax rate of 33 cents – the LOWEST tax rate of any municipality in Wake County.

$15 million for Cary Elementary renovations and conversion to the Cary Community Arts Center.

$35 million for the Downtown Cary Streetscape project.

$8 million for Cary Parkway road improvements (previously only half was funded).

4.5% operating budget increase – whittled down from staff recommended 7.8% ($4 million decrease).

$30 million worth of Downtown projects postponed including the Harrison Ave. Extension, Hwy 54 widening from Maynard to Maynard, and the Walker Street extension/tunnel.

One council member, who shall remain nameless, believes Cary is spending too much on downtown at one time – even after council removed over $30 million worth of capital improvement projects downtown from the FY2009 budget in an effort to trim the fat. Yours truly believes downtown is finally getting its fair share. For years Cary’s capital improvements and investments have focused on our new growth areas. In other words, the nice and new always went to the nice and new. How much exactly? Over the last ten years, Cary has spent $310 million on parks, recreation, or transportation projects throughout the town. Only $12 million of that amount was spent downtown. The folks who have dealt with the effects and impact of growth longer than anyone else are the ones who have benefited the least from it.

For years we have seen increased neighborhood decay, businesses pack up shop and leave, and crime rates steadily increase downtown. Continuing to ignore these issues would only lead to more of the same. A town with an unhealthy downtown – and I’m not saying that’s the case yet – is an unhealthy town. Cary’s investment in downtown will encourage significant private investment and a revitalization movement that will, over time, transform downtown into a destination place - a place folks will want to live, work, and play. Cary must invest in downtown, we can’t afford not to.

The streetscape project – In retrospect – was probably the wrong title to give this project. The name leads one to believe it’s solely a beautification effort. That simply isn’t the case. For example, this project spends millions on road improvements downtown. I am sure those of you who have visited downtown know just how bad of shape the roads are. It also spends millions on drainage and storm water control measures, traffic control measures, upgrading and relocating utilities, and increased lighting for greater public safety. Unfortunately the project does cost $35 million. If we could make the same improvements for less we would – but we can’t.

Cary has been planning these improvements since our adoption of the Town Center Area Plan (TCAP) back in 2001. Sentiments from folks I have heard from are that Cary has planned, planned, and planned enough. It is time to stop planning, and start doing.

The council member who voted against the budget also stated we should focus more on public private partnerships, incentives, or the economics of downtown redevelopment instead of investing in the streetscape project. Good points. However, a few months ago when I recommended council reduce or eliminate impact fees downtown to help provide economic assistance (like he recommends) for folks to redevelop – he said “NO”. I don’t get it. (actually, yes I do, and I think you do too)

In the end I believe we have a very good budget. Is it perfect? No. But a very wise person told me that if you can get a budget that everyone is 80% satisfied with, you have a good budget. That means everyone didn’t get everything they wanted, but that priorities were addressed, and folks got what was most important. I believe that to be the case with Cary’s FY09 budget. Just as folks have had to tighten their belts and adjust their budgets in an uncertain economy, Cary has done the same.

I am proud of the work that council did on this budget. I am very proud of our town staff as well. Town Manager Bill Coleman, Budget Director Scott Fogleman and his staff, and numerous other staff members all did a tremendous job responding to council’s concerns, and exceeded our expectations – at least six of us anyways.