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Council schedules another budget workshop to try and tweak $1.2 million from expenses

After a budget workshop with city council last week, and ahead of a final workshop scheduled for May 28, Whiteville city staff will continue working on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 to try and tweak another $1.2 million from general fund expenditures to avoid an increase in overall expenditures from the current year.

Finance Director Coburn Brown and City Manager Darren Currie will work between now and the May 28 workshop to either pare the budget by $1.2 million or find additional revenue to make up the shortfall.

It is expected that the final draft of the budget can be completed after that workshop and a required public hearing be held on June 11 prior to final passage of the budget.

Departmental budget requests for the upcoming year total $6.5 million, compared to $5.3 million in anticipated expenditures for the current year.

The fire department is requesting the biggest increase, $2,138,948 over the current year’s $874,135 allocation mostly to replace three fire trucks. Chief David Yergeau has reminded council in monthly updates throughout the past year that 30-year-old Engine 3 is out of service and not roadworthy, although it continues to be utilized for training purposes. Yergeau says that 19-year-old Ladder 1 and 13-year-old Engine 2 soon will need replacement. 

Yergeau is also asking for three additional firefighter positions to bring his department to 13 employees, including the chief. “Hopefully, with the new positions we will be able to lower our ISO (insurance) rating from Class 4 to Class 3,” Yergeau said, The fire chief also hopes to purchase new VIPER radios.

The police department is requesting $2.361 million, compared to $2.022 million for the current year. Much of the $340,000 increase would go to increasing the starting salary of beginning officers from $30,395 annually to $34,844. 

“Whiteville continues to be a training ground for other police departments,” Chief Jeff Rosier told council, expressing hope that increasing the starting salary would help stem the flow of officers to other departments. Rosier is also asking for the creation of a new full-time, permanent evidence custodian. Currently, a detective fulfills those responsibilities as part of his workload.

Other police department requests include $137,500 for capital outlay, up from $34,826 for the current year. The biggest capital outlay request is for $29,400 for a storage building and office ($6,000 for the building and $23,400 for land). Rosier also is asking for $10,000 for computerized voice stress analysis equipment.    

Parks and Recreation Director Blake Spivey has submitted a budget request for $758,749, compared to $496,985. That includes $$231,500 for capital outlay that would be used for parking lots, lighting two ball fields, perimeter fencing at West Whiteville Park and five new scoreboards to replace aging scoreboards.

Mayor Pro Tem Sara Thompson and Councilman Tim Collier (a former city recreation director) both praised Spivey for working on his own time on weekends to drag fields in an effort to reduce compensatory time which otherwise would have to be given to other staff.

One capital outlay item of $92,000 would be spread among five departments in the new budget. A front-end loader would be replaced with a more versatile piece of equipment which will accomplish more tasks than could be achieved with a new $68,000 front-end loader. That would be paid for with $18,400 budgeted from the streets, water, sewer and sanitation departments, as well as the Powell Bill fund.  

Overall, the proposed street department budget remains about the same as the current year, $270,000. Powell Bill expenditures would be $160,000, compared to $163,280 currently. The water budget would increase to $697,028 from $635,710, with most of the increase due to ongoing well rehabilitation. 

The proposed sewer budget shows an increase to $767,175, up from $531,771 this year. Most of that hike, $152,695, goes to debt service, with another $41,400 for capital outlay.

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The wastewater treatment plant, a different budget item from sewer operations, shows a small increase to $1.024 million, up from $990,639 the current year.

Public safety director Hal Lowder is requesting a departmental increase of $18,302 to bring his total budget to $135,829. Half of that increase would be for $9,000 to purchase a flat bottom boat and motor to be used for rescue operations in floods. “Hopefully, that would be a $9,000 insurance policy that we’ll never have to use,” Lowder said. 

Planning department expenditures would rise by about $22,000 to $136,340 in the proposed budget. Most of the increase would be an additional $11,000 for what planner Robert Lewis called ”unique and exquisite” professional services for consultants to help downtown building owners determine whether they would qualify for historic building renovation tax credits should downtown be designated a federal historic district. Code enforcement expenditures also would increase.

Whiteville Downtown Development Commission (economic development) expenditures would increase to $86,165 over the current year’s $43,309. The biggest increase would be for façade grants ($10,000 compared to the current $4,000) and salaries ($42,766, compared to $30,841 currently). Landscaping and parking lot expenditures would remain unchanged at $5,000 and $3,600, respectively.

Economic developer Sean Martin wants to concentrate on façade grants, replacement of trash cans downtown and committing to the Main Street program.

Stuart Rogers