Apex Town Council last week was on the brink of experiencing something very special in the world of politics.
After struggling through three years of austere budgeting in the midst of a national recession, town leaders made the difficult decision to raise taxes for the upcoming 2012-13 fiscal year.
Instead of facing the normal public backlash associated with tax hikes, residents voiced overwhelming support for the five-cent increase. The residents praised council’s leadership and the high level of service provided by the town and spoke in favor of paying something extra for the completion of three parks.
Town leaders simply needed to vote in favor of the tax increase at the June 19 meeting and enjoy the fact that residents believed they had made the correct choice.
But that’s when council’s big moment quickly turned sour.
A 4-1 vote was made in favor of the tax increase with Councilman Lance Olive as the lone dissenter. After hearing Olive’s decision, Mayor Keith Weatherly quickly asked council to reopen the subject in order to listen to an explanation from the councilman.
“Obviously he has ideas on how to balance the budget that we don’t,” said Weatherly.
Weatherly said 18 people spoke in favor of the tax increase during a public hearing in early June and noted that Olive was not in attendance.
“Tell us how you could balance the budget,” said Weatherly.
Olive, who openly supported former councilman Bryan Gossage in the November mayoral election, said he wasn’t planning on speaking. He pointed out that following the election, Weatherly had removed him from town committees and “made it clear you weren’t interested in my input.”
Olive also told the mayor he was working on the night of the public hearing and was unable to attend. He said he listened to the meeting on the town clerk’s recording.
The mayor continued to push Olive for an explanation on why he voted against the tax increase.
“I believe the voters want you to help us,” said Weatherly.
Olive said the mayor was pushing for a tax increase “from the beginning.” He said he asked for a budget without a tax increase “but I didn’t get that.”
Councilman Scott Lassiter joined the bickering by saying he was under the impression that all councilmen could participate in the actions of any town committee.
Weatherly told Olive that he “hadn’t given anything positive” in trying to balance the budget and said everyone was looking to him for leadership.
“You got your tax increase,” said Olive.
Councilman Gene Schulze then went on the attack.
“You are shirking your responsibility,” said Schulze. “You are voting out of spite and that is wrong.”
Weatherly said council held a lengthy work session on the budget and all five councilmen were given an opportunity to speak.
“You weren’t engaged in the discussion,” said Weatherly. “You didn’t offer any hint of what the alternative could be.”
Councilman Bill Jensen finally brought the spectacle to an end by calling for a motion to once again vote on the $34.6 million budget. The second vote also approved the tax increase by a 4-1 margin.
With the five-cent hike, residents will now pay 39 cents per $100 in property value.
Council said the increase was necessary to offset a $2.1 million budget deficit.