With merger in limbo, Waynesville budget sent back to the drawing board
The Waynesville Board of Aldermen rubberstamped a $31.8 million budget Monday, but it may just have to turn right around and approve a new one.
Waynesville’s budget assumed a merger with Lake Junaluska would come to pass. If so, it would bring in an extra $650,000 in new property taxes for the town. It would also add more than a dozen new employees to the town’s payroll, from police officers to garbage men, to serve Lake Junaluska’s sizeable residential neighborhoods.
But the merger may not happen this year after all due to political hang-ups in the state legislature. And that in turn means Waynesville would have to “radically alter” its budget, according to Town Manager Marcy Onieal.
“This doesn’t mean that annexation won’t happen — it’s just unlikely to happen on the schedule we have spent the past year planning for, and we must now adjust our budget accordingly,” Onieal told the town board.
If the merger is approved by the General Assembly, then the budget will stay as is. But Oniel is skeptical, noting that “the clock has nearly run out” to get the bill passed before the legislature adjourns for the year. Thus, she believes a contingency plan is in order.
For now, the town will operate under the assumption the merger isn’t going to pass. In coming weeks, the town will know for sure, and at that point the board will come back to the table and amend the budget.
The addition of Lake Junaluska was more or less a wash for the town finanically. So the town won’t be left with a hole in its budget should the merger fall through.
Waynesville planned to spend the extra property tax revenue on 14.5 new positions, including police, firefighters, public works and street department employees, to serve the 765 homes in the Lake Junaluska area. Many of those workers would come from the existing ranks of Lake Junaluska’s own public works department, who would transfer over to the town.
But backing out the $650,000 in projected new property taxes aren’t the only budget adjustments the town would have to make, though. Whether the merger goes through affects how much the town gets in trash pick-up fees, water and sewer fees and fire service taxes. The town had also budget for water and sewer line repairs at the lake.
“I want to applaud your all’s efforts,” Alderman Wells Greeley told town staff. “I know that took a lot of time and energy.”
Meanwhile, the board will sit in limbo until a final decision is made on the merger at the General Assembly.
“What happens in Raleigh doesn’t stay in Raleigh. It comes back to Waynesville,” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “Our budget was left a little bit on its ear. We are sort of at the beck and call of the legislature.”
News editor Becky Johnson contributed to this story.