LUMBERTON — The Lumberton City Council got its first look at a proposed 2018-2019 budget Thursday, which keeps the property tax rate unchanged, raises water and sewer fees by 4.9 percent, and gives employees a 3 percent pay raise.
City Manager Wayne Horne’s plan called for a 2 percent raise. But Councilman Leon Maynor raised concerns about that recommendation.
“We seem to be in good shape financially, but I have concerns about employees at the lowest level, in maintenance,” he said. “I’d like to have the council talk about this.”
“Lower level personnel need help and assistance, more than higher pay rates,” Councilman John Cantey said.
“We’re doing OK,” Horne said. “This would add costs. We can make a more informed decision with the pay study being done.”
After more discussion of the cost-of-living adjustment and how an ongoing pay study, the first in 20 years, may affect salary adjustments, the council members approved the 3 percent increase.
Horne presented a proposed budget of $81.2 million that called for keeping property taxes at the current rate of 63 cents per $100 of property value, no changes to power, stormwater or sanitation fees, and a small raise in inspection fees. The next step in the budget approval process is to hold a public hearing during the City Council’s June 11 meeting. The budget must be ready to take effect July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The planned memorial park in the downtown area was an issue for Cantey. The councilman requested a committee be put together to oversee the park after referencing recent attacks on memorial parks around the country.
“When will we have more in-depth conversation on this park?” Cantey said. “I’m a veteran. I see a great need for this park. I want us to be mindful of the climate in the federal through state and county. If you look at the news, memorial parks are under attack as far as the monuments that are going to be allowed in to the park. These are monuments paid with taxpayer dollars and they can cause issues. People are vandalizing monuments on college campuses. I think there should be two white, two black and two Indians on the committee to make sure that the tensions in the county are looked at. ”
“This came up in the county commission meeting. We had the same discussion,” Horne said. “I think a joint committee from the city and county could design the monuments. They would make decisions on how we would design it, what monuments would go in it.”
The proposed budget also reflects a rise in insurance costs and a change in providers. The North Carolina League of Municipalities provided a better plan, adding about $400,000 a year to the current price. The league was picked because the plan offered paid mandatory physicals, blood work, and an 8 percent cap on future increases. These were not included in the new plan by the current provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Horne’s presentation to the council members also included information about about $13 million in one-time grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Golden LEAF, and the state Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program to fund capital projects throughout the city. Flood gates on VFW Road near Interstate 95, sanitary sewer extensions, and a new airport terminal are among the projects.
The increase in water and sewer rates of 4.9 percent cover costs related to repairs to the sanitary sewer system. Cave-ins and repairs, rental of special equipment and overtime costs caused budget overruns.
The General Fund budget includes:
— Building a new baseball field for the Dixie Youth World Series event at a cost of $764,365. Funding sources include grants and local money.
— Plaza renovation and a downtown alley enhancement project costing $553,700 and funded with state grants matching funds.
Other capital expenditures include:
— Giving the Emergency Services Department $159,625 for its new computer-aided dispatch system.
— Spending $225,000 to rehabilitate the Central Fire Station. After construction in the late 1970s, no major improvements have been made to the structure. The upgrades include flooring, bathrooms, paint, lighting, concrete work, and security improvements. A truck, gear, hoses and turnout gear are included in the funding package.
— The Police Department receiving $1,145,865 for optics, computers, weapons, K-9s and SWAT team equipment.
— The Planning Department receiving $188,000 cover the cost the veterans park, a truck, and a local match for Phase One of the Riverwalk.
— A proposal to create a deputy city manager position. The job is an upgrade from administrative assistant. The deputy would assist the city manager with day-to-day tasks.
Reach David Bradley at 910 416 5182 or [email protected]