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The Daily Tar Heel

Carrboro Gears Up to Weather Budget Crisis

N.C. mayors and Easley attended the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition meeting Wednesday to discuss the effects of statewide budget cuts on local municipalities.

Carrboro Board of Alderman member Alex Zaffron, who represented the town at Wednesday's meeting, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Easley announced last week that the state expects a $900 million budget shortfall. The town of Carrboro stands to lose $299,284.

But Carrboro might lose even more money if the town does not receive the sales tax receipts it hopes to get from the state at the end of the month.

The worst-case scenario for the town, if there are no financial returns, could mean $451,000 in budget cuts, Town Manager Robert Morgan said.

Although Easley attempted to comfort the leaders at Wednesday's meeting, Carrboro officials say they aren't buying his optimism that if state revenue increases, there will be a chance the withheld funds will be redistributed to the local municipalities.

Alderman Diana McDuffee said she thinks the town shouldn't bank on the prospect that funds will be returned.

"It is a very troublesome situation," she said. "The chances of the state returning the funds are very slim."

McDuffee said she does not place the blame on Easley. "He inherited a very bad situation," she said.

McDuffee said she thinks the cause of the crisis stems from Sept. 11, a bad economy and the state's low tax revenue.

Alderman Joal Broun said the town officials' main priority is to protect town infrastructure.

"Maintaining (safety) services is also a priority," she added, referring to fire, police and emergency medical services. "Everything else is up in the air."

McDuffee said ideas raised to help balance the town budget include putting off a street resurfacing project and delaying the purchase of land for a new fire station and public works facility.

In addition to these plans, the town will delay filling some personnel vacancies and will cut operating expenditures, Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson stated in a letter to Easley outlining the town's options.

Nelson, who did not attend the Wednesday mayoral meeting, also pointed out in the letter the consequences of withholding funds from residents.

He wrote that withholding the funds would cause a delay in moving the town forward and argued that it could take decades for the town to recover from the fiscal chaos. Nelson added that local taxes most likely will be raised substantially next year as a result of the fiscal crisis.

Nelson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

McDuffee said the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system will be affected tremendously because about half of its funds come from the local level.

Morgan said that although plans have already been made to handle the difficult situation, the aldermen are still hanging on to the hope that Easley will return the withheld funds.

He said "I think the bottom line is to get public utility franchise revenues back to the town."

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Staff Writer Jenny Huang contributed to this story.
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