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Town Advertising Two Tax Increases

FARMVILLE – Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to advertise a proposed 2011-12 budget with a two-cent increase in the real estate tax and a half a percent boost in the meals tax.

A public hearing will be held on the proposed budget next month in conjunction with Town Council's June 8 meeting.

Town officials spent almost two hours going page by page over the 68-page budget prior to their regular May meeting and believe the proposed tax increases will generate needed revenue without burdening any one group of taxpayers.

The $17,037,834 budget would leave a projected contingency of approximately $38,000.

The Town is cutting appropriations to non-Town organizations and that across-the-board approach includes cutting an estimated $3,800 for FACES to heat its Town-donated building.

Council members grimaced during the budget session when that cut was revealed but felt the financial realities forced Town Council to adhere to its cutting philosophy.

“You hate to hurt the little guy,” council member Donald L. Hunter said.

If the budget is adopted as advertised, the meals tax would increase from 6.5 percent to 7 percent and the real estate tax from 10 cents to 12 cents per hundred of assessed value.

Town officials previously discussed raising the meals tax from 6.5 to eight percent, with no increase in the real estate tax, but opposition caused Town officials to have a collective rethink.

Increasing both taxes would not place the entire burden of generating more revenue on one tax alone, in this case restaurants and their patrons, they decided.

The half-percent increase in the meals tax, the Town's largest revenue source, would generate approximately $182,000 more in revenue for 2011-12.

The proposed two-cent real estate tax increase would bring in an estimated $103,000 more in revenue.

As they have during each budget discussion, Town officials noted the services provided to residents without specific fees, most relating to sanitation, such as trash collection and recycling.

The simplest way to offset those costs and generate more revenue is through the proposed tax increases rather than creating a separate sanitation fee or tax, Town officials concluded.

Town Council must adopt the 2011-12 budget before the end of June.

Conditional Use Permit Request Denied

During Wednesday night's meeting Town Council also unanimously voted to deny a conditional use permit sought by Jeanann Messarge for 1708 Lee Drive that would have allowed she and her husband to operate a sandwich delivery business during normal business hours from their home.

The sandwiches would have been prepared at the residence and then delivered to customers who placed orders via telephone or email, with no business signs on the property, no customers coming to the property, nothing outwardly visible to indicate a business use or create a business atmosphere.

Town Council's decision adhered to the unanimous recommendation from the Town's Planning Commission.

A petition signed by neighboring residents had supported the conditional use permit for the home occupation proposed by the Messarges.

The R1A zone allows for a home occupation with a conditional use permit, however planning commission members, with Town Council agreeing, feared setting a precedent because the proposed use would have included creating a commercial kitchen in the garage.

In a letter to Town Council, planning commission member Samuel V. Wilson, Jr. states, “To be sure, R1A zones do not arbitrarily preclude home operated enterprises. Some are permitted under explicit and defined circumstances. But these permissible circumstances exclude, in my opinion, the business purpose for which this request is made. The petitioners wish to convert a garage into a commercial food preparation kitchen. This is an action, incidentally, that requires building code inspection and safety clearance, by regulation. Fire safety, for example, to include the construction of a firewall and a sprinkler system, is an important standard that is required for the operation of commercial kitchens.

“Such regulatory conditions, in this case,” Wilson wrote, the letter read aloud during Wednesday night's meeting, “immediately raise the issue of 'dissimilar use.' The conversion of a garage into a commercial kitchen in an R1A area is clearly a 'dissimilar use' to the original purposes of using a garage.”

“…In my opinion, if this request is approved, the consequences of unforeseen precedent would be unleashed, and both the stated and implied intent of the R1A zone would be compromised. This would deny,” Wilson writes, “property owners the protection of which they sought and for which they invested in faith and trust of this town's protection.”

Fellow planning commission member Dan Dwyer also explained the planning commission's thinking in recommending the conditional use request be denied. The R1A district, he said during the public participation portion of the meeting, “should provide a suitable environment for families who desire quiet, spacious home sights with the amenities of suburban living and without the fear of encroachment by dissimilar uses…

“…The planning commission focused their concern on the issue of dissimilar use,” Dwyer said. “The Messarge's requested home business would require the creation of a commercial kitchen in their garage. Mr. Spates (Town manager Gerald Spates) stated that there has never been a permit issued for a commercial kitchen in a residential zone since he has been with Town. The commission concluded that the request created a dissimilar use.”

After Town Council's unanimous vote, Ms. Messarge sought permission to address Town Council but was denied by Mayor Sydnor C. Newman, Jr.

Spates told her “the public session's over. It's (whether she is allowed to speak) up to council.”

Mayor Newman told her, “we had great discussions for a long time this afternoon about that and the planning commission has denied ya'll's request and the council one hundred percent agrees with them. And you did have a chance to speak when we first stated the council meeting (during the public participation portion) and if you'd like to come back to the next council meeting…”