LUMBERTON — Seven City Council members voted in favor of a 3 percent raise in city utility rates at a Council Policy meeting on Wednesday, although approval cannot come until after a public hearing in March.
The regular March meeting would normally be March 10, but it will be changed because of scheduling conflicts. The date has yet to be announced.
Councilman John Cantey, who represents Precinct 5, was the only member to vote against the proposed hike, although his colleagues’ votes were cast begrudgingly.
“I’ll fall on the sword,” Precinct 8 Councilman Erich Hackney said while making a motion to raise the rate. “I don’t see how we have a whole lot of choice.”
Cantey said he is inundated with complaints about utility rates, which come in at just under 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“I manage four mobile home parks …. their electricity bill is higher than their rent,” he said.
The proposed hike was prompted by declining revenue to the Electrical Utility Fund that follows mild winters and consumers’ efforts to conserve. From 2011 through 2013, electrical sales decreased by about $2.4 million.
If adopted, the change would raise rates by about .38 cents per kilowatt-hour — about $6 extra each month on a $200 bill.
According to City Manager Wayne Horne, it’s likely the city would have to raise rates by another 3 percent in 2015 if negotiations don’t pan out for Duke Energy to purchase ownership interests in four power plants that serve Lumberton and Red Springs. If that deal were made, residents could see their bills shrink.
The hearing will also include public comments on a proposed five-story hotel at 123 Farm Brook Drive, behind the Hampton Inn on Wintergreen Drive. The name of the hotel has not been released.
Residents may also hear about a barber shop/beauty school proposed for 418 N. Chestnut St. The council asked that the conditional-use permit application be sent back to the Planning Board because of concerns over parking.
Anthony Spence already has a lease on the land, which would not have to be rezoned, but any type of trade or vocational school requires a conditional-use permit, according to Planning Board Director Brandon Love.
The council authorized the Lumberton Police Department to buy $14,480 in surveillance equipment for the Narcotics Division and 15 patrol vehicles at a cost of $425,462.25. According to Police Chief Michael McNeill, the cost of the patrol cars was included in this year’s budget and the surveillance equipment would purchased with money seized in drug arrests.
The council tabled a request from the county to support a dumping ordinance that would make it illegal for private haulers to take waste out of the county. Lumberton’s recyclables are currently taken to Fayetteville.
“I think the county will say ‘that’s fine, we didn’t really mean that,” interim City Attorney Rob Price said.
The county wants the ordinance so it will not lose landfill tipping fees when hauled to landfills in other counties.
In other business, the council:
— Gave the Lumberton Police Department permission to apply for a Governor’s Highway Safety Grant. The four-year grant, which has a graduated local match, would pay for two officers to work in traffic enforcement. The total cost, which includes officers’ salaries and benefits, equipment and vehicles, amounts to $230,241. By the fourth year, Lumberton would be responsible for 100 percent of the costs.
— Denied a request from Southeastern Health to annex the Southeastern Health Park site on Dawn Drive. According to Love, the organization opted out of receiving city electricity, which would have required annexation, but will still receive water and sewer services from Lumberton.
— Approved a 50-year lease agreement with the Lumberton Christian Care Center for its new facility on Second Street. Rent is set at $1 per year. The center will have to pay maintenance costs but not property taxes.
— Did not adopt an ordinance allowing the city to remove decaying trees from private property. Precinct 7 Councilman Leon Maynor proposed the ordinance, citing several trees in his precinct he feels are hazardous. The council decided to hear such requests on a case-by-case basis.
— Formalized the appointment of E. Holt Moore as the city’s next attorney. The council also approved the designation of $2,500 in moving expenses for Holt, who currently lives in Wilmington. Holt, who begins in March, will earn a starting salary of $92,000.
— Denied a request from Native Solar that it be allowed to place a solar farm on Dundee Drive. The council first heard the request in November and asked the Planning Board to get more information. The application was denied because, according to Love, the Planning Board has not been able to reach the company since it applied.
— Decided to vote at Monday’s 7 p.m. council meeting on appointments to the NCDOT Comprehensive Transportation Plan Steering Committee. According to Love, Lumberton needs a steering committee before its transportation plan can be updated by the state Department of Transportation.
— Authorized Price to negotiate an agreement with the Lumberton Housing Authority to provide police officers to monitor public housing. According to Price, the city usually provides two officers but the authority’s funding for the service has been cut.
— Approved the designation of $1,300 in Community Revitalization Funds to Lumberton Senior High School for new marching bands uniforms; $1,600 for a scholarship banquet on March 22 at Golden Leaf Lodge No. 124; $75 for housing rehabilitation for 533 Swann St. and $425 for 405 John St.; $550 for Lumberton Senior High School’s cheerleading squad; and $400 for a field trip for Rowland Norment Elementary School’s special needs students.
— Accepted a $503,676 Clean Water State Emergency loan that will go towards repairing a sewer line for the Britt’s Farm Interceptor Rehabilitation Project. According to Horne, the pipe is deteriorating and leaking small amounts of gas.
— Appointed Lloyd M. Locklear to the Lumberton Airport Commission.
— Authorized the tax collector to advertise tax liens on delinquent taxpayers.
— Approved a request for three hospital signs on Pine Run Drive.
— Adopted a corrected August 2013 ordinance granting franchises for commercial solid waste collection. According to Price, the ordinance originally included incorrect rates.
— Extended a contract between the Electric Utilities Department and Progressive Engineering Consultants Inc. for miscellaneous engineering services.