LELAND — Last week, a Leland town councilman said the town is likely facing a tax increase.
“We’re facing a tax increase no matter what if we’re going to spend time and money on roads,” Michael Callahan said at the town’s Dec. 20 meeting. “No matter where it is.”
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And, based on recent conversations about the town’s roads, Leland does plan on spending time and money on its deteriorating roads.
Last month, Leland enlisted consultants to bid on conducting a town-wide road conditions study to score all of the town’s 92 miles of roads. The town’s last study was conducted in 2016, and was moved up by a few months based on resident’s concerns. Estimates are expected by New Year’s Day.
Callahan suggested in a November Council meeting that the town needed to hire a staff member specifically dedicated to overseeing the roadways, and mayor pro-tem Pat Batleman said the issue needed to be made a priority.
A nearly half-million dollar Waterford repaving project came under scrutiny last week when residents of the community told town representatives the work was sub-par. To address concerns, Leland is also looking to contract a Waterford-specific road conditions study. While presenting the issue at the Council meeting, Leland’s assistant manager, Niel Brooks, said fixing Waterford’s roads is just the beginning.
“Our road systems are kind of reaching this point,” he said. “A lot of our neighborhoods were all completed in the early 2000s. We’re getting to the end of [their] road life.”
When asked whether staff and the rest of Council are in general agreement that a tax increase is on the way, Brooks said it depends on what goals are established by Council for the upcoming budget.
If there isn’t enough revenue to address the town’s goals, Brooks said Council will need to look at other ways to generate added revenue — or reduce current services or expenses.
The town’s current tax rate is currently $0.21 per $100 valuation of taxable property. That was bumped up in 2017 from $0.1833. According to the town’s audit released last week, the town’s property tax rate will not change through the current fiscal year.
But a recent survey, paired with recent town discussions, show the tax rate could go up. A “Fall 2018 Budget” survey, still underway, asked for residents’ approval or disapproval on a number of tax-increasing services.
Based on the survey estimate, it would require a $.05 tax increase to improve the “aesthetics” of town-maintained roads. Still, improving “aesthetics” is separate from maintaining the structural and functional integrity of the road system. No tax increase estimate was offered for this task, but it’s clear it will be a costly task.
Fixing all of Leland’s problem roads could cost millions. Though no analysis has been conducted, and no cost for the analysis has been yet quoted, it won’t be cheap.
“Considering the Waterford Paving project cost nearly $500,000 and the current market for road construction projects, it is anticipated that road improvements Town-wide would be into the millions,” Brooks wrote in an email.
But in order to offer a concrete number, Brooks said the town would need the analysis’ results.
In 2019, the town also plans to take a project to address issues in Mallory Creek off Highway 133 to bid and construction, Brooks said. Pointing to 2017’s cold stretch, this year’s heavy rainfall and the natural age of the roads, Brooks said the roads are in need of attention.
“Because of the nature of the growth that came so fast at one time, here, 10-15 years later, now’s about the time you start seeing these issues pop up in the roads.”
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