LUMBERTON — The City Council on Wednesday, in an effort to dodge an increase in property taxes, discussed changes to health insurance for retirees, but took no action.
The current plan provides retired city employees with 100 percent health insurance after 20 years of service or more. City officials say the plan is too costly, and to be maintained would require additional tax revenue.
The council on Wednesday discussed three options: after 20 years or more of employment, retirees would be entitled to 50 percent coverage; after 30 years of employment, an employee would be entitled to 100 percent coverage; or dropping the health plan for retirees entirely.
“We have a lot of people who live in Lumberton who are retirees,” Councilman Don Metzger said. “I would hate to hit them or anyone who lives here with a tax increase. On the other hand, I would hate to see our employees after they retire, suffering too. The sooner we deal with this, the better it will be for future generations and future residents of Lumberton.”
Also during Wednesday’s policy meeting, the council heard from auditor Matt Patterson of Collins, Kemp and Patterson, who said the city’s finances are “holding its own.”
Patterson said the General Fund is about $600,000 less than the previous year and debt has gone up by more than $1 million, but the city still has about $8 million less in debt than it did in 2004.
Patterson said projects the city has taken on, namely Northeast Park and construction for a new Police Department, have depleted the General Fund — Lumberton’s “savings account.”
“When you undertake some projects you’re going to spend some money, when you’re not undertaking projects that balance will rise up,” Patterson said. “So you’re saving up for something and then you’re spending it.”
City Manager Wayne Horne said spending should level out as those projects come to a close.
In other action on Wednesday, the council:
— Approved a five-year agreement with the North Carolina Department of Transportation for routine safety maintenance at the Lumberton Municipal Airport.
— Approved an encroachment agreement with property owner Dick Taylor that will allow him to place an awning over the sidewalk at 210 and 212 N. Chestnut St.
— Voted, after a presentation by Horne, to spend $407,000 to have PowerSecure Inc. install a new generator at City Hall. The current generator will be moved to the new Police Department when construction is completed.
— Awarded the Wooten Company a contract to provide technical assistance for a Community Development Block Grant that will be used to build a new shelter and soup kitchen for homeless people.
— Approved about $370 of Community Revitalization Funds to fill in a disabled veteran’s swimming pool in Precinct 3.
— Approved about $500 of Community Revitalization Funds for maintenance at The Oaks.
— Adopted a resolution asking the state to restore funding to the The Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which has provided more than 1,500 grants to local governments for a variety of needs, including recreation and protecting watersheds. The state has reduced funding to The Clean Water Management Trust Fund by 78 percent since 2010.