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The Daily Tar Heel

Town Officials Delay Improvement Plans

Bill Stockard, assistant to the town manager, said the town's original $1.2 million budget for its Capital Improvements Plan -- a 15-year financial strategy to meet the town's major infrastructure needs -- has been decreased by 60 percent.

The 2002-03 recommended Capital Improvements Plan budget is $478,000, $238,000 of which will come from the town's general fund. The remaining $240,000 will come from money already in the town's Capital Improvements Fund.

No discussion was held concerning the plan or the town's budget at Monday's Chapel Hill Town Council meeting, where Town Manager Cal Horton presented his recommended 2002-03 budget for the first time.

But talks have been ongoing for months about both topics, especially because the town expects to face a $2.9 million revenue shortfall for the 2002-03 fiscal year, $1.4 million of which stems from money Gov. Mike Easley has withheld from the state's municipalities.

"A lot of things had to be cut back because of budget restraints," Stockard said.

Despite the cutbacks, town officials say they have prioritized capital projects so the most important ones can go forward next year.

Projects that have a council mandate or have legal requirements that need to be performed or completed are at the top of the lists.

Some of the projects that have been given top priority are improvements to the Hargraves Recreation Center and the A.D. Clark Pool as well as the construction of a community gym at Meadowmont Elementary School.

Other secondary projects include resurfacing sidewalks, making improvements to town and public works facilities, placing new traffic lights and beautifying cemeteries.

"Most of the CIP budget involves debt payment on facilities like the public works facility," Stockard said.

Facilities requiring debt payments include the Inter-Faith Council Center and a new town transit facility.

Council member Flicka Bateman expressed concern about the town's lack of funds. "We're trying to work with what we have, but we have more needs than money to pay for it all," she said.

Stockard also is worried about how the town will manage to fund many of its important projects with a significant amount of funds expected to be withheld by the state government.

"It all depends on what the government releases back to the local governments," Stockard said.

Stockard said finding ways to increase some public salaries and return money to the Capital Improvements Plan are town officials' top priorities during the budget crafting process. The town plans to finalize its budget before July 1.

"We would feel lucky to do more."

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