LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners got its first look Monday at the 2018-19 budget, which includes no increase in the current tax rate of 77 cents.
With the revaluation wrapping up, County Manager Ricky Harris said property values in the county remain virtually unchanged from the previous fiscal year.
“Property values remain flat, but that was the good news,” Harris said. “This is one of the best budgets I’ve worked on.” He noted Cumberland County had a drop in values.
Property damage from Hurricane Matthew was the likely cause of the flat property values, as two major industries, Sanderson Farms and Pepsi Bottling Ventures, invested $297 million and created 1,500 jobs.
County employees are penciled in for a 1 percent cost of living increase. The commissioners will roll up their sleeves and take a hard look at the budget at their June 4 meeting.
There are some big ticket items in the budget, including $12 million to $13 million to renovate the former BB&T building into the new county office building, according to Assistant County Manager Kellie Blue. The four-story building will house offices for administration, technology, finance, human resources, deeds and taxes.
The Sheriff’s Department will get more than 80 new vehicles through a lease program, Blue said. The automatic water meter reading program will continue to roll out with a capital outlay of $1.5 million, and a trash compactor for the landfill will cost $1 million.
“An additional $10 million is needed to complete the expansion of the Maxton water treatment facility,” Blue said. “The Public Schools of Robeson County is also expected to seek additional funding for school construction, teacher pay supplements and equipment, which total more than $17.2 million.”
School board member Mike Smith was recognized by the commissioners. He chairs the school’s Finance Committee, which put together the $17.2 million request in addition to the $12.3 million the county provided last year.
“I’d appreciate any consideration you can give our request,” Smith said. “Our needs are great.”
Smith proposed a meeting between school and county officials before their next meeting in June.
In other business, revised federal flood plain maps are heading for approval this summer by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, said County Planner Dixon Ivey. The maps determine where construction may take place and requirements for building in the flood plain. Insurance rates depend on the maps.
“There are some serious changes,” Ivey said. “We’ve advertised for the public to view the maps, but no appeals were requested.
“Some areas are coming out of the flood plain, and some areas are going in the flood plain,” Ivey said. “A lot of people will be affected in a good way, moving from the 100- to the 500-year flood plain, but there is quite a bit of change that won’t be good for people.”
The commissioners also heard a plan for a 1.1-acre memorial park at the roundabout gateway to Downtown Lumberton. Lumberton will fund the park, but it needs a long-term lease from the county to build over 45 county parking spaces.
“The intent to to make a home for a park with various military themes,” said City Planner Brandon Love. “We have never had a suitable place to hold ceremonies for Memorial Day or Veterans Day.”
The city would make Exit 19 off I-95 and Carthage Road the primary entrance to the downtown, Love said. The commissioners spoke favorably of the plan.
“This is a great idea and a great suggestion from the city,” said Commissioner David Edge. “That area is a focal point for the city and county.”
“As a veteran, I like this idea,” said Commissioner Berlester Campbell.
“I am tickled to death with the roundabout, which is one of the best uses for that area,” said Commissioner Jerry Stephens.
“I want to note that the city and county worked together on inspection fees for the new administrative building, which will save us $30,000,” Harris said. “We look forward to working on more projects together.”
The lease was tabled in order to review the legal work.
The commissioners reviewed plans for three large housing development planned by the Lumbee Tribe. With approximately 100 single-homes in each, they are located at U.S. 301 at Raynham Road, Island Grove Road in the Prospect community and Evergreen Church Road in the Union Chapel community.
The county Planning Board will give its approval to the maps before action by the County Commissioners is required.
Commissioner-elect Faline Locklear Dial was in the audience and recognized by Vice Chairman Campbell, who ran the meeting as Chairman Raymond Cummings was absent. Commissioner Lance Herndon was also absent.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]