In a 4-to-1 vote Monday night, the Clayton Town Council adopted a $29.7 million budget that will create higher taxes and user fees for its 22,000-plus residents.
Town officials approved a 14 percent increase in spending for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The town board did not lower the 58 cents property tax rate to a revenue neutral rate of 49 cents following the 2019 property revaluation. By keeping the property tax rate unchanged, it is equal to an 18 percent increase in property taxes. For an average Clayton homeowner with a $200,000 residence, that is equal to a $180.00 increase per year in property taxes.
“This year was probably the hardest, but one of the best times we had working with a budget because we spent hours and hours and hours – cutting and questioning, and cutting and questioning, and cutting again,” said Councilman Bobby Bunn, who has lived in Clayton 57 years and praised this budget’s proposed $1.1 million dollars in street improvements, more than double the amount called for in years past. “Some say we need to lower the tax rate…well, we could. But then you’ll be sitting out there next week saying, ‘Why aren’t the roads getting any better?’ You hear people say, ‘Why don’t we have a Chic-fil-A?’ You hear people say, ‘Why don’t we have this?’ and ‘Why don’t we have that?’ It’s simple…because we’ve been kicking the can down the road so many years. Putting things off for the next year or two years before we could do another bond, etc. It’s time for us to take that final step and if we vote tonight I would vote to carry Clayton to the next level.”
“I’ve spent over 75 hours specifically on this budget,” said Mayor Pro Tem Michael Grannis. “I’ve asked more than 235 questions of staff. But the reason I share that is because I care and I know every person on this board cares. We’re concerned about the increase, but at the end of the day, and I can only speak for myself, I truly believe in my heart that it is in the citizens’ and the town’s best interest to leave this tax rate where it is.”
For the first time, this Clayton budget is tied to a comprehensive 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP. The CIP also includes 4 parks improvements that would be part of a November bond referendum. Voters will consider an $18 million bond in November 2019 that will authorize the Town fund numerous parks and recreation related capital projects. The proposed bond would not call for another tax rate increase.
Four people spoke during the public hearing on the budget, including former Town Councilman Bob Ahlert who claimed there was too much in the CIP. Retired resident Bart Bloom, who said he appealed his property revaluation twice with the county and achieved a reduction to a 5% increase, posed the question to every elected official as to whether they’d have approved this same budget had it not been a revaluation year.
“I’ve lived in this Town 61 years and I love this town,” said Councilman Bob Satterfield. “Your question was, ‘Would we raise the taxes 9 cents?’ For what we’re trying to do for the Town of Clayton and its citizens, yes, we would… I feel like we’re doing this for the citizens and the Town. We are not a sleepy little small town anymore, we’re growing into a middle-sized town – and it costs a lot of money. And I don’t like my taxes going up either. My property value is going up though.”
Councilman Art Holder concurred. “This is my 10 or 11th budget and it’s been the hardest one that I’ve sat through,” he said. “The easiest one was when we had the recession. Because then we just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. We got through the recession with our reserves staying where they were supposed to. You question was, would I have voted to increase taxes without the revaluation? The CIP had been discussed before the revaluation. Everything this town needs…I didn’t say wants…it’s everything this town needs to get us to where we need to be. We’ve ignored some things during the past 10 years. Yes, I would have voted to increase taxes.”
The one dissenting vote came from Councilman Jason Thompson.
“I still think there’s a lot of work to be done with regard to wants versus needs,” said Thompson. “I think we’ve got some fat that we could trim. And I also feel like we could do something. No, I don’t feel like we need to go back to revenue neutral, but I feel like we could go somewhere to a mid-point and still accomplish a lot of the things that we want to do. I am worried about those who are on fixed incomes, that can’t afford to see $30 increase in their bill a month. That’s a substantial amount of money for a lot of people. This has been a very good process, there’s been so much work that’s gone into this from the staff level to us – this is the most we’ve ever met on budget for sure. But I’m not satisfied we’ve cut enough”
While he is not a voting member of Council, Mayor Jody McLeod argued it wasn’t cutting but investing with taxes that has helped Clayton earn its reputation as one of the best places to live and raise a family. He said it’s in part taxing that has yielded us a quality of life that has attracted investments like the $2 billion Novo Nordisk expansion.
“Just this past week, I got a Census email that told me our current population is 22,850 people,” said Mayor McLeod. “That’s up 41% from where it was 10 years ago. And if we don’t take action today, what is it going to be in 10 years? How much more is it going to cost the citizens in Clayton in 10 years? So I’m proud of this Council for the hard work that you’ve done. I’m in agreement with Jason, we could probably battle this (budget) thing out for another 4 months, and trim, trim, trim. But we really are going from that small town to that mid-sized town…and this is a growing pain. I don’t like paying taxes either, but I like seeing where my tax money is being spent. And I think that’s the appreciation the citizens of the Town of Clayton have.”
14 New Positions
Highlights of the budget include 14 new positions. Full-time positions include 9 firefighters, 1 building inspector, 1 storm water engineer, and 1 recreation program coordinator. Two part-time positions include an engineer and a substitute library associate. Combined, the 14 new positions add $870,612 to the budget.
Town employees would see a 2 percent cost of living increase in July, plus an additional 1 percent cost of living increase in January 2020.
The Town will absorb a projected 7 percent increase in health insurance premiums for employees, which is anticipated to rise from $543.64 per month to $581.69. The Town pays for 100 percent of the cost.
Per Lot Development Fee Increasing From $750 To $2,000
Developers will be paying more. Currently there is either a $750 fee or a requirement to dedicate open space for each new single family lot. Beginning July 1st, developers will no longer be allowed to dedicate open space land to offset the fee. The per-lot fee will increase to $1,000 on July 1st, $1,500 on Jan. 1, 2020 and $2,000 per lot on July 1, 2020.
Water, Sewer, Trash Rates
Water and sewer rates will increase an average of 15.8 percent, or about $11.72 per month more per household. The water and sewer rate increase is part of a multi-year plan to increase rates to help pay for a new wastewater treatment facility.
The solid waste fee for trash collection will increase from $18.07 to $20.50 on July 1. All Star Waste, which collects trash for the Town of Clayton, will also begin loose leaf collecting, which had been handled by town employees. The $2.43 increase covers loose leaf collecting and rising recycling costs.