CORNELIUS — After a day and a half retreat with Cornelius commissioners, Town Manager Anthony Roberts said he is fairly confident the tax rate won’t increase in the coming fiscal year.

The town board and staff went on their annual budget retreat March 13-14, this time at the Graylyn International Conference Center in Winston-Salem.

Among the topics of discussion were to get updates on projects and ensure the town was keeping in line with its Comprehensive Master Plan and the town’s five-year financial forecast while hashing out prospective funding uses for 2014-15.

“Overall, we look very good. Very healthy,” Roberts said of the town’s financial situation. “The fund balance looks great, but a lot is reserved for the Diverging Diamond Interchange. When the DDI is finished, that percent will drop. But there is no need to raise taxes, and we can still do the projects people expect.”

The goal is to have the manager-recommended budget with the 24 cent per $100 valuation property tax rate available March 5. A public hearing is slated for May 19 prior to the board vote. It will take effect July 1.

In preliminary budget projections, estimated expenses are $18.9 million with revenues at $18.4 million. The rest is to be made up using reserves. But with revaluation tax revenue changes still coming in as well as continued tweaking, those numbers could change.

Some of the highlights from the retreat:

 

Bonds

The board has nearly $21 million in voter-approved bonds, but only plans to use up to $10 million in the coming year. Based on a January retreat, staff has moved forward outlining potential road improvements, which will be brought back to the board in May.

Commissioners have discussed potentially using $6 million in bond money for road improvements, and looking for grants and Powell Bill funds to supplement others.

Roberts said $4 million of the bond money is being considered for parks and recreation maintenance, though the board asked for further information.

“As far as the arts center, it looks like unless something falls in our lap, it won’t happen until Phase 2,” Roberts said.

 

Capital improvement projects

Capital improvements take up a large part of new town expenditures. Construction on the Diverging Diamond Interchange has begun on Exit 28, with the brunt of the project taking place this year.

Phase II of Robbins Park is slated to begin with renovation of two ponds, paved trails, and volleyball and dodge ball courts.

Greenways will be added to connect the trail on Westmoreland Road to Robbins Park, and the South Bailey Road Greenway will connect Davidson’s greenway to the Caldwell Station Creek trail.

Several street paving projects and sidewalk construction initiatives have already begun throughout town and will continue. 

 

Emergency crews

The Cornelius fire and police chiefs presented their needs for the coming year.

In preliminary recommendations, funds have been allotted for replacing gear older than 15 years, providing for increased worker’s comp and paying radio user fees for the fire department, plus replacing computers and implementing a Citizens on Patrol Program for police. Commissioners asked for more information on the citizen patrol initiative.

Roberts said officials plan to continue to look for joint opportunities for the Cornelius-Lemley and Davidson fire departments for efficiency.

 

Personnel

The number of town employees isn’t expected to change next year, though Roberts has asked the board to consider setting aside funds for merit raises, increased health insurance costs and a retirement percentage increase.

 

Five-year financial outlook

Roberts said for now town finances are fine, but the board may have to make some changes with a potential tax increase in the coming years. Roberts said projecting  that far out is difficult and is based on assumptions regarding expenses and potential revenue. If the county has another revaluation or board priorities change, that could alter budget numbers as well.

Topics referenced during the retreat will continue to be on the board’s radar with further discussion throughout budget season.

“Overall, it was a great budget retreat and seems to get better every year,” Roberts said.