Waynesville budget approved; amendment may be necessary

By Mary Ann Enloe | Jul 02, 2013

The nearly $32 million budget Waynesville adopted Monday night didn't remove the approximately $684,000 built into it to reflect expenditures and revenues projected for the stalled merger of Lake Junaluska and Waynesville.

"The budget can be amended at any time," Waynesville town manager Marcy Onieal told Mayor Gavin Brown and the town's board of aldermen. "I promise you I'll be back with amendments to reflect any changes we might need to make if the merger doesn't take place this year."

State law mandates that government entities adopt their budgets on or before July 1 of each year. Town officials spent three days in Raleigh last week trying to unravel the political knot which has tied up the merger agreement Lake Junaluska asked for. The local bill must be approved by the N. C. General Assembly and is now stalled by what N.C. Sen. Jim Davis says is "politics."

Waynesville came back from the state capital with no answers and announced a special meeting for July 1 to adopt its budget of $31.8 million, which holds the tax rate at 40.82 cents per $100 evaluation, about what it was in 1996. Instead of raising taxes, the town will take $1.1 million from its healthy fund balance, or "rainy day" fund, to balance the budget.

More than a year ago Lake Junaluska officials requested that Waynesville extend its city limits to include the Junaluska residential community after a study commissioned by Junaluska recommended that option as the least expensive of three. The other two were incorporating into its own town or remaining as is. Dozens of public meetings were held throughout the year, both at Lake Junaluska and in Waynesville, explaining the pros and cons of each scenario.

A required "local bill" or law permitting the merger was supported by two of Haywood County's representatives in the General Assembly — N. C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen and N. C. Sen. Jim Davis. House District 118 Representative Michele D. Presnell did not agree with the concept as it was presented, stating she wants to require Junaluskans to vote on the issue.

Many affected Lake Junaluska residents don't live full-time in Haywood County and can't vote here. They do pay the same rate of county taxes as full-time residents do.

Waynesville's newly-adopted budget absorbs a 13-1/2 percent increase in employee insurance rate increases. Last year's budget absorbed a 17 percent increase in those rates.

As in most towns, the largest piece of the pie goes to the police department. Its budget is $3.76 million. Streets and Sanitation comes in second with $2.68 million. Recreation is a close third at $2.4 million.

Waynesville purchases power from Duke-Progress and re-sells it. The town will pass along to Waynesville customers any increase from Duke-Progress. The town's General Fund is augmented with monies from the stand-alone "enterprise fund" revenues and in the coming year that transfer from the Electric Fund to the General Fund is set at $386,000.

Water rates and sewer rates will increase by 6 percent each, in keeping with recommendations of the 2007 Water/Sewer Assets Management Plan, primarily to address costs of construction and repair of water lines.

Onieal's budget message says "...At the time of budget adoption, the N. C. General Assembly has failed to adopt a state budget and the proposed tax reform bill, and has not acted upon the local legislative bill authorizing merger of the Lake Junaluska Assembly community with the Town of Waynesville.

The manager's budget proposal is based on all three items being adopted by the state early in 2013-14 fiscal year. Should the legislature take action in coming weeks in a manner that is anticipated to significantly alter the town's financial status during the current fiscal year (either through failure to approve annexation or through a state budget or tax reform bill that changes the way in which municipal revenues are authorized or distributed), it is understood that a budget amendment will be necessary."

Mayor Gavin Brown put it this way: "What happens in Raleigh does not stay in Raleigh. It comes back to Waynesville."