Red Springs looks at budget, hears concerns on utility fee

First Posted: 6/5/2013

RED SPRINGS — The Red Springs Board of Commissioners at its Tuesday meeting got an earful from three residents who oppose items in the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year — one of whom helped the town develop the current budget when the town was without a manager.

Scott Townsend, who retired as a budget manager for the city of Wilmington, and Westgate Terrace resident Lagirtha Graham spoke against a $25 reconnect fee for residents who are late on their utility bill, even if their service is not interrupted.

“This fee would mostly affect those that can least afford it,” Townsend said. “… Please consider not adding this fee to an already financially overburdened segment of our community.”

Town officials are worried that because their customer base is small, with 1,450 receiving service, some are getting tipped that their service is close to being disconnected, so they move quickly to prevent that from happening — and dodge the fee. According to Mayor John McNeill, about 200 of the town’s customers make the cutoff list on any given month, and about half will pay when that visit comes. He said the town is accused of favoritism by those who aren’t home to receive the warning, and the town also loses money by paying someone to make house calls and receiving no payment for the service — a cost of about $25,000 a year.

The increase in the sanitation rate and the reconnect fee are the only two changes in rates in the proposed $9.3 million budget plan, which keeps a tax rate of 63 cents for every $100 property. It includes a 3 percent pay raise for employees.

“I’m not a budget expert or anything,” Graham said, “but myself and several of my neighbors are on fixed incomes, and it’s hard to pay the light bill along with other expenses … it’s time for the residents of this town to get some kind of relief and I think that can be done if the town looks at this budget closely.”

Town resident Renett McQueen asked the board to consider additions to playground equipment at town parks such as the one at Eighth Avenue and Westgate Terrace.

“Your parks are being utilized by your youth,” McQueen said. “That’s the future of Red Springs. It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s our youth, and we don’t put things in the town for the youth to enjoy. That’s why our children leave home.”

The board voted unanimously to schedule an additional budget meeting on June 18 at 6 p.m.

“There are so many needs facing our town, and the truth of the matter is, we just don’t have a lot to work with,” McNeill said.

In other action on Tuesday, the board:

— Recognized participants and coaches of the town’s inaugural youth soccer program.

— Recognized JaSarah Harrell, of Red Springs High School, and Monica Smith, of Flora Macdonald Academy, as the town’s June students of the month.

— Heard from Harvey Bryant, a Shannon resident whose teenage grandson was accidentally shot and killed by his younger brother on Valentine’s Day when the two were handling a shotgun, about the need for children to be taught gun safety. Bryant said that he plans a memorial motorcycle ride for his grandson, the proceeds of which will go toward promoting gun safety.

— Appointed Lydia Troy to a three-year term on the Farmers Market Commission. She will replace Billy Currie, who resigned from the position.

— Amended a personnel policy to allow retirees who have not been employed for 20 years, the minimum amount of service for which the town pays a percentage of health costs, to pay for the town’s health coverage out of pocket until becoming eligible for a Medicare Supplement, thus purchasing insurance at a reduced rate. Commissioner Duron Burney voted against the policy.

— Amended the town’s zoning ordinance to include solar farms as a conditional use in the agriculture-residential and industry districts.

— Approved the demolition of a burned-out home on Brigman Street.

— Approved a contract with Providence Place for maintenance on 33 “acorn” street lights at the facility.

— Approved a $2,750 contract with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services and Wildlife Services for the trapping of beavers, which are building dams that have stymied the flow of Little Raft Swamp.

— Approved a policy that limits employee smoking to three regularly-scheduled breaks per day — a 15-minute break in the morning and afternoon, and lunch break. Commissioners Burney, David Shook and Edward Henderson voted against the policy. McNeill broke the tie.

— Approved budget amendments totaling about $56,000.

— Approved about $500 in water/sewer bill releases.

Abbi Overfelt works for Civitas Media as editor of The Red Springs Citizen and The St. Pauls Review.