Clayton approves $41.4M budget

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2014 

This large magnolia tree in front of The Clayton Center on Second Street is one of several the town is considering removing. Town staff say this tree is causing damage to a retaining wall.

NASH DUNN — ndunn@newsobserver.com

Clayton leaders on Monday approved a $41.4 million town budget that includes a $1.2 million land purchase for a future park.

The Town Council agreed earlier this month to include the land purchase in the budget. Town Manager Steve Biggs and his staff are working with a nonprofit to buy the 66-acre tract on the southeast side of town. The nonprofit, which the town has declined to name, specializes in preserving open spaces.

Biggs said he expects the town to close on the property by August. “I think it’s going to happen,” he said in an interview June 3.

The town has no concrete plan for how it will use the land, but Clayton leaders say it will likely become a park.

Clayton has more than 150 acres of existing park property, and that doesn’t include the 39 acres the town is set to buy near the Neuse River. The plan is to combine those 39 acres with other land to create a 120-acre nature-study area, dog park and amphitheater off of Covered Bridge Road.

Councilman Bob Satterfield, who missed Monday’s budget vote for a family matter, said he wasn’t thrilled initially about buying more land, noting that the town has not developed land it already owns. But he said the price – about $18,000 an acre – and location made it a good investment.

“We may not get anything out of it, but our grandchildren might,” Satterfield said.

The property is located off of Little Creek Church Road near Clayton Evergreen Nursery. The purchase would shrink Clayton’s available savings from $5.9 million to $4.7 million, or from 30 percent to 24 percent of town spending. The Clayton Town Council agreed years ago to maintain savings equal to at least 20 percent of town expenditures.

Clayton’s budget does not include a property-tax hike; the rate will stay at 52.5 cents per $100 of valuation.

Electric rates will stay the same too, but water rates will rise 17 cents per 1,000 gallons of use. A typical home, which uses 5,000 gallons of water each month, will pay 85 cents more per month, or about $10 more a year, the town notes. Clayton raised its water rates because its supplier, Johnston County, did so.

After the town cut staff amid the recession, Clayton will make about 10 new hires in the next year, including property- and street-maintenance workers, a development coordinator for the planning department and a project administrator for the town’s engineering division.

Clayton will also hire two part-time employees for Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library, part of the town’s departure from the network of Johnston County libraries that share books and other services. To become a standalone library, the town is also budgeting $18,400 for a cataloging system, $6,000 for extra books and $5,000 for e-books.

Total salaries in the year ahead will increase from $8.9 million to $9.4 million, or about 6 percent, reflecting a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase, merit raises that start next year and the new positions.

As for capital spending, the fire department budget includes a $278,033 down payment on a replacement rescue vehicle. The rescue vehicle will cost $591,560. Other capital purchases include $284,200 in equipment for water and sewer operations, $65,500 to replace an outdated phone system at The Clayton Center and a $175,000 street-lighting project on N.C. 42 East.

The Clayton Center trees

Several dying or overgrown trees near The Clayton Center might come down in coming weeks.

Biggs said the trees don’t look nice, and one is causing damage to a retaining wall near the building, which is located at the corner of Second and Fayetteville streets.

No council members voiced opposition to a presentation about removing the trees, but Councilman Michael Grannis recommended the town plant an equal number of trees on other town property.

“I don’t think that we have any sort of requirement of being a tree city in the United States, but we are a tree city,” Grannis said. “That’s one of the reasons that I think for every tree that we remove, I would like us to consider replacing.”

Roots under a large Magnolia tree are damaging the retaining wall, which runs along Second Street.

“I would never be in favor of removing them, except for the fact that it is creating an eyesore with our retaining wall,” said Mayor Jody McLeod. “I hope the council can agree that this gets remedied.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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