LUMBERTON — The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved an increase in the city’s storm water fees to generate new revenue city officials say is needed for storm drain improvements. The increase for a residential household will cost an additional $6 a year.
The decision came during the council’s annual budget workshop, during which a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for city employees was also approved.
According to City Manager Wayne Horne, the fee increase will generate about $110,800 in revenue a year for storm drain repairs, which Horne said is one of the city’s biggest expenses.
The monthly fees will increase from $3.25 to $3.75 for residential accounts; from $7.15 to $8.29 for small business accounts; from $21.45 to $24.88 for medium business accounts; from $57.20 to $66.35 for large business accounts; and from $85.50 to $99.18 for major users.
Councilman John Cantey, of Precinct 5, said he’s received complaints from residents in his precinct about flooding.
“Their major complaint about storm water is that they don’t have sidewalks, they don’t have drainage systems and all the water sits in their yard,” he said. “They’re already complaining about why they have to pay storm water/sewage drainage fees when the water just sits in their yards. How can I explain the increase?”
“We can’t drain yards,” Horne said. “… We are making some improvements, it’s just a ways to go, and we’ll continue to work on it.”
Also on Thursday, the council approved a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for all city employees effective July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. Horne cited a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that inflation has been 2.9 percent in the past year.
A 2 percent adjustment was proposed in the budget, but Councilman Erich Hackney of Precinct 8 suggested bumping that to 3 percent.
“Our employees are the backbone of the city … and obviously we want to take care of them, and obviously I want to take care of the department heads that do things that generate savings for the city,” Hackney said. “… If it’s possible and if it’s something we could stomach, so to speak with the budget, based upon not being able to do things in past years, I just want to throw that out there for consideration.”
In addition to the cost-of-living adjustment, the council also approved a 5 percent increase for city employees with professional certifications to bring their salaries in line with other municipalities. Horne said that increase would only affect three positions.
“It would apply to anyone else we would hire in that position,” he said.
In March the council was presented with a report that compared department salaries for key positions in communities of similar size with Lumberton. The report proposed a 7.5 to 10.5 percent adjustment for employees with certifications.
Cantey objected to the 10 percent increase.
“I’m not saying that they don’t deserve an increase, but a 10 percent increase, that’s a whole lot of money…,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there who have degrees who would probably work for less than what our employees are getting here. A 10 percent increase, if that’s what the council should decide, that’s a whole lot of money.”
“Even with these adjustments we’re still going to be under,” he said. “I can assure you, these employees that have that advanced degree … pay the city back two-fold.”
The council approved the adjustments in a 7 to 1 vote, with Councilman Don Metzger of Precinct 1 voting against.