First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON — The City Council last week got its first look at the city manager’s proposed budget, which holds the line on taxes, increases the water and sewer rates and provides a cost-of-living increase for city employees.
But some council members were upset that they didn’t have more time to review City Manager Wayne Horne’s plan before the discussion. The recommended budget is for $74.4 million, up about $6.5 million from the current budget, and includes a General Fund of about $24 million.
The city has struggled in recent years financially but Horne said, “Our funds have pretty well stabilized.”
The budget keeps the tax rate at 63 cents for every $100 worth of property, calls for a 10 percent increase in the water and sewer rates, provides employees a 3 percent pay raise and funds several capital projects. It does not include any new positions.
Councilman Jackie Taylor arrived 15 minutes late to the meeting, stating he came as soon as he was made aware it was taking place. Councilman Erich Hackney expressed disappointment in the time frame he had to review the material.
“I got this yesterday on my front porch,” Hackney said. “I would have liked to have time to review it more. It seems like to me to get information in a timely manner … staff, at times, presents the attitude that they give us something and expect us to make a decision right away on it.”
The budget, which is expected to be approved at a regular council meeting on June 9, includes a few capital projects that Horne says are overdue.
“For about four to five years, it was a tight capital budget,” Horne said. “I wouldn’t have brought this to you without the money in the balance to pay for the equipment.”
One major capital project is for new vehicles for the Lumberton Police Department at a cost of $470,000.
“The hidden cost you don’t see in the budget,” Horne said, “is it costs $200,000 in maintenance for the old patrol cars.”
Hackney and Councilman John Cantey Jr. agreed that some new positions are needed, especially for the Fire and Police departments. They also said they would not support a 10 percent increase in the water and sewer rates.
“The proposed 10 percent will affect customers … we adjusted it 9 percent last year, so that’s 19 percent in less than two years,” Cantey said.
Deputy City Manager Dixon Ivey made the math relevant.
“Most customers use about 3,000 gallons a month,” he said. “That would be a $2.85 increase a month. For 10,000 gallons, it would be $6.78 a month.”
Cantey said: “For fixed income people, that’s a lot.”
Cantey and Hackney did not agree on the the 3 percent pay raise, but for different reasons. The raise would cost the city about half a million dollars.
Cantey wanted a higher raise for staff, while Hackney wanted raises based on merit, and not across the board.
“It almost comes to a point where employees demand a cost of living increase each year when private businesses don’t pay that,” Hackney said. “Some employees do deserve a raise — more than 3 percent — some don’t.”
Other capital projects that Horne is recommending be funded include:
— A paving project for about 80 streets all over the city at a cost of $1.7 million to be financed over 10 years.
— Improvements to an electrical substation, $350,000.
— Work on N.C. 711 and N.C. 301, $167,050.
— Renovation to one of the city’s three water tanks, $125,000.
— A new sewer camera to detect blockage and cave-ins, $105,000.
— A bucket truck for the Electrical Department, $65,000.
— A diesel tractor for the Recreation Department, $54,000.
— Improvements to the downtown plaza, $50,000.
The council plans to meet again on May 29 to finalize the budget that becomes effective July 1.