Raleigh City Council approves budget with 2.12-cent tax increase, funds crossing guards

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2014 

— City Council members on Monday approved a $750 million budget with a 2.12-cent property tax increase to fund street repaving.

City Manager Ruffin Hall’s spending plan for the coming fiscal year passed with little controversy after about three hours of discussion among the council.

One cent of the approved tax increase will generate $5.15 million to repave about 30 miles of streets each year. Voters approved the remainder of the hike last fall when they passed a $75 million transportation bond issue to widen some of Raleigh’s busiest roads.

The budget also increases the garbage fee by $1 to $13.30 per month and includes a utility rate hike that will cost the average resident an additional $4.27 per month for water and sewer service. City employees will get a 2 percent to 4 percent raise.

Only one aspect of the budget sparked controversy on the council – a proposal to add 11 new school crossing guard positions. The council agreed to spend $73,658 to expand the ranks of the crossing guards, but it disagreed on which schools should get the help.

In a 5-3 vote Monday, the council allocated the new guards to 11 schools that requested them but didn’t score the required 100 points on the city’s evaluation system.

“These 11 schools seem to have issues that weren’t getting taken care of on our ranking system,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.

But Councilmen Russ Stephenson, Bonner Gaylord and Thomas Crowder voted no, saying the allocation could prove unfair – particularly if another school requests a guard later and scores higher.

Stephenson pointed out that the lowest score among the 11 schools was 67, and he said the council should provide guards anywhere with that score or higher. “If we’re not willing to do that, we’re saying we’re going to play favorites instead,” he said.

The push for more crossing guards came after Kevin LeCount – a Douglas Elementary parent – asked city leaders to reinstate a crossing guard near the school. LeCount and others pointed to speeding cars and poor visibility there, but the intersection only scored 69 points in a city traffic evaluation.

Stephenson and others said that the city could invite other schools to apply for a crossing guard and then staff the top 11 intersections. But that might bump the Douglas location off the list.

“We’re not going by a formula, we’re not going by established protocol, and it ends up just being the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Gaylord said.

As the 11 guards are added, the city will continue to work with Wake County schools on pedestrian safety, and the council will review its scoring criteria for future requests. The 11 schools, Councilman Wayne Maiorano said, “have raised their hand, sought the city’s help and waited patiently for it.”

In addition to the crossing guards, the council added seven new expenditures to the budget on Monday, including:

• $100,000 for a new program to nurture entrepreneurial start-up firms.

• $100,000 for booster groups seeking to improve the New Bern Avenue and Blue Ridge Road areas.

• $50,000 to study economic development around the intersection of Oakwood Avenue and Tarboro Street.

• $27,500 to expand a planning study of Cameron Village to include Hillsborough Street.

• $5,500 for more dog poop bags at city parks.

Funding for the last-minute additions won’t require cuts elsewhere – Hall plans to use unspent dollars from an economic development fund and the City Council’s contingency money. The new budget goes into effect July 1.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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