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Cornelius News

Town staff calls for 8.3% tax hike; public hearing May 16


May 3. By Dave Vieser. The Cornelius town manager has proposed a $21.88 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that calls for a 2-cent tax increase to 26 cents. If the 8.3 percent tax increase is approved by the Town Board, it would cost the owner of the average $250,000 home in Cornelius about $50 more a year in property taxes.

“Cornelius is a vibrant and inclusive community dedicated to providing vital services to our residents,” said Town Manager Anthony Roberts. “However, there’s no escaping that the largest component of the revenue which pays for these services is the town’s property tax.”

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The proposal by the highly respected town manager comes after considerable discussion among commissioners. An informal Readers Poll on the Cornelius Today homepage showed residents supporting the tax increase roughly 53 percent to 47 percent opposed.

Public hearings are set for May 16 and June 6. The board is expected to give thumbs up or thumbs down—or modify the budget—in time for a final vote June 20. The budget and tax rate must be set and in place before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

RELATED: Town of Cornelius Manager’s recommended budget presentation

Even before Roberts presented the budget, Mayor Chuck Travis made an unusual plea to his fellow commissioners which seemed to land in favor of the tax increase. “Today, we plan our future budget and as Mayor of Cornelius, I want to challenge us to think beyond just solving the budget for another year. We have tremendous opportunities to improve beyond the expected. We have the opportunity to set the stage for us to imagine a great town.”

Town taxes represent approximately 23 percent of the total tax bill for Cornelius taxpayers; the remainder is comprised of county taxes, which includes school expenses.

Some commissioners are saying there is no way around the proposed tax increase which literally parallels state spending on local roads. For example, new NCDOT spending on widening West Catawba means a total of about $2.63 million in town-funded improvements like sidewalks and lighting that would run parallel to the roadway.

Burying the utilities from Jetton Road to Sam Furr Road is not part of the equation, nor is it under consideration at this point. The cost, in fact, would be in excess of $15 million and there are no plans to beautify the streetscape that way.

Even with a two-cent tax increase to 26 cents, Cornelius is still the low-cost municipality in North Mecklenburg: Davidson’s tax rate is 35 cents; Huntersville, 30.5 cents. In Cornelius, each penny on the tax rate generates about $515,000 a year.

What caused this is a change in the way the state schedules road projects. Under the old pre-McCrory system, some local road improvements were years out in the future. The new system has pushed them forward, so that the associated town-funded improvements—the “skin in the game” as McCrory says—must be paid for sooner. To pay for them two, three and four years out, the town manager is hoping to set aside funds via the two-cent tax increase at the rate of $1.03 million a year.

A total of some $30 million in projects has been identified by the town through 2020.

While the town can borrow to cover some of the costs, many projects will need to be paid on a “cash” basis, meaning the money must come from the town’s fund balance, which is like a savings account in the bank.

That fund totaled $15.9 million as of last June, so it’s clear that there wouldn’t be enough money to cover both the capital projects and burying utility lines. The town has a policy of maintaining a 40 percent fund balance, which helps it maintain a AAA debt rating, and that means lower borrowing costs for projects that can be financed.

The capital project costs listed for 2017 are as follows:

  • Public Works Facility: $1.35 million: The current one on Starcreek Drive, off Bailey Road, will be replaced by a new building across the street.
  • Road resurfacing: $700,000: Ongoing program to resurface up to 4 miles annually.
  • DDI Aesthetic Improvements: $696,666: Includes masonry abutments and landscaping.
  • ADA Compliance: $100,000: construct handicap accessible routes for park facilities in Bailey Road Park, Legion Park and Smithville Park.
  • Bailey Road Park major renovations: $255,000: includes updating soccer field, basketball and tennis courts.
  • Vehicle Replacement Program: $231,000: Replace five aging police cars.
  • Northcross Drive extension: $100,000: when completed, will extend Northcross Dr. from the existing terminus at the Stratford Forest subdivision to Eagle Ridge Way Lane at Westmoreland Rd.
  • Highway 21/Catawba Ave intersection improvements: $100,000: when completed a new two lane roundabout will replace current congested intersection.
  • Public Works Equipment: $80,000: towards replacing several aging trucks.
  • Video Surveillance Program: $65,000: upgrade existing equipment.
  • Parks vehicles: $55,000: towards replacing Maintenance truck, trailer and Utility vehicles.
  • Computer Replacement Program: $50,000: ongoing replacement of equipment over three years old.
  • Firefighter Bailout and Safety System: $49,000: improve safety features for firefighters.
  • Highway 21 roundabout utility burial: $40,000:
  • EMT Equipment for Boat/Fire Trucks: $8,400: replace various equipment on Boat 4 and several fire trucks.