LUMBERTON — “Tremendous” and “phenomenal” were among the words used at a council policy meeting on Wednesday to describe the handling of Lumberton’s finances.
The city’s governmental expenses during the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013, declined by $334,000 from the previous year, according to Matt Patterson, of the accounting firm Collins, Kemp and Patterson. Governmental expenses include costs to collect taxes and issue permits and licenses.
Revenue in those areas were down by about $1.34 million over the previous year, partly due to a decline in the amount of sales tax the city collects, according to City Manager Wayne Horne. Patterson said that given the current economy, the city’s ability to reduce expenses “is simply amazing.”
Revenue for the city’s business activities — including light and power, water and sewer and sanitation services — was up by $1.97 million, Patterson said. Business expenses have risen by about $990,000 but Patterson said for the first time in the three years he has done Lumberton’s audits, those three sectors are fully supporting their own costs.
The city also collected 98 percent of property due during the 2012-13 fiscal year, which is about the state average but well above the collection rate for the county and other local governments.
Patterson did caution the council that the cost of post-employment benefits for city employees will eventually exceed the amount of money available if those benefits are not modified.
In other business, the council decided to allow the Planning Board to consider allowing retail sales in businesses zoned for manufacturing.
Brandon Love, the Planning Board’s director, presented letters from two local manufacturers, Kayser-Roth and Due Process Stable Trading Company, expressing an interest in opening outlet stores in their locations on Interstate 95.
Due Process Stable Trading Company, which recently opened a rug manufacturing facility in Lumberton, said it would hire 15 employees to staff the outlet.
“I think this would be something that would bring people off the interstate and really enhance that interchange,” Horne said.
The council agreed to contribute $35,520 to replace signs and a nearly 25-year-old lighting system at the Lumberton Regional Airport. The state Department of Transportation awarded the city a grant of up to $711,376 to help pay for the improvements, but stipulated that at least 10 percent of the total cost be split evenly between Lumberton and Robeson County.
According to interim City Attorney Rob Price, a request to contribute has not been submitted to the county.
The council also voted to contribute labor for the construction of a waterline from the Wesley Pines Retirement Community along its eastern property line to the Gibson Cancer Center, although the details of the project are still being worked out.
The Gibson center needs increased water flow to support a 5,300-square-foot addition that is underway. Southeastern Health has agreed to cover the materials and engineering expenses for a proposed 12-inch water main.
Precinct 1 Councilman Don Metzger recused himself from the vote because he is on the board of United Methodist Retirement Homes, the parent organization of Wesley Pines.
In other business, the council:
— Voted to submit a request to the Planning Board that property at 4140 Fayetteville Road be rezoned for retail sales.
— Voted to submit a request to the Planning Board that property at 3450 Capuano Drive be rezoned to allow for a doctor’s office. Council members asked the board to consider that it recently denied a similar request just across the interstate.
— Agreed to consider an application from Southeastern Health to have property on Dawn Drive annexed into the city of Lumberton. The planned Southern Health Park site has to be annexed in order to get utilities from the city.
— Agreed to a contract with Harris Local Government to update the city’s finance software. The city purchased its current accounting software in 2000. The initial cost for the update amounts to about $70,000 and was included in the latest budget.
— Approved the designation of $600 of Community Revitalization Funds to Lumberton High School for wrestling uniforms.
— Approved the designation of $400 in Community Revitalization Funds to the Boy Scouts of America.
— Approved a five-year waste water treatment plant sludge removal contract with Synagro, which has agreed to forgo fuel surcharges to the city.
— Allowed the Inspections Department to proceed with demolishing an unsafe structure at 210 E. 10th St.
During a closed session, the council discussed the salary for the next city attorney.