Zebulon residents feeling the economic pinch may get a little repreive from the town.
Commissioners took their first stab at a budget last night and, compared to most municipal governments, Zebulon is doing quite well.
Finance Director Emily Lucas recommended a budget that keeps the tax rate the same — 51 cents per $100 in property value, but cuts spending.
Mayor Bob Matheny and some commissioners — but not all of them — asked Lucas and Town Manager Rick Hardin to look again for ways to reduce the tax rate.
"People out there are hurting right now and I think it's the town's obligation to try to help them where we can," Matheny said.
The town can reduce the tax rate a few ways.
First, it can reduce spending. With less to spend money on, the need to make taxpayers pay more goes down.
Second, the town can pull more money out of its savings account instead of taxing property owners.
Or the town could do a combination of both things.
Currently the town's fund balance — or savings — is equal to 89 percent of what it would take to operate the town for one year without bringing in any more money. The state requires a town or county to keep at least 8 percent of its operating costs in savings. Towns the size of Zebulon typically try to keep about 40-50 percent of a year's expenses in savings.
So the town has extra money set aside which could be spent in lieu of property tax money.
If the town chose to look for cost savings, Matheny offered a couple suggestions last night. First, he said, the town could look at its plans for painting the water tower. The budget proposal calls for spending $16,000 to paint the town seal on the water tower. For just $3,000, the town could just have "Zebulon" painted on the tank.
Matheny also suggested delaying plans to fill a new position in the planning department, which could save the town even more money.
Commissioners Dale Beck and Don Bumgarner agreed with Matheny that they would like to see the tax rate reduced, although Bumgarner wondered aloud how it would look if other towns are crying the blues about their finances and Zebulon was able to cut taxes.
Commissioners Beverly Clark and Curtis Strickland were a little more hesitant to endorse a tax cut. The budget, as it's proposed, includes about $424,000 in state funds that could be cut if legislation in the General Assembly is passed. That would leave a good-sized hole in the budget. Clark and Strickland said they'd like to know more about whether that money is going to be there.
"I'd hate to cut taxes and then come back next year and have to raise taxes a couple two cents," Clark said.