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Whiteville budget workshop funds employee raises, ballfield lights, fire truck and new water meter system

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

Whiteville City Council Tuesday afternoon held an informal workshop on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, a budget that includes 4 percent pay raises for employees, a new water meter system that will result in more accurate readings, and capital improvements for a new fire engine and new lighting at the Nolan Park recreation complex.

Later Tuesday night, meeting in a short regular session, council revised the city’s employee classification system to restore a technical services division manager in the police department, received a timetable for opening the new City Hall next month and dealt with several other routine matters.

During their afternoon budget workshop, council fine-tuned the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. By law, City Manager Darren Currie must present his budget proposal to the board by June 1 and council must adopt a final budget on or before June 30. 

Council took no formal action on the budget Tuesday; that won’t happen until after a legally required public hearing on June 11 during which citizens can voice their input. The proposed budget keeps with city’s ad valorem property tax rate at 53 cents per $100 valuation. Water and sewer rates will be unchanged, but there will be a small increase in garbage rates to compensate for an increase being imposed on the city by Waste Management.

Currie said about $180,000 in capital outlay expenditures in the upcoming budget for installing lighting on two of the three newest ballfields at Nolan Park and replacing an aging fire engine will come from the city’s fund balance, or rainy day savings.

The $60,000 to $65,000 that will be required as a down payment on the new fire engine will represent only a fraction of the cost of the new vehicle, which could approach $700,000, according to Fire Chief David Yergeau, but that is the only amount that will affect the upcoming fiscal year. The balance of the cost will be financed over a period of time to be worked out by the city’s Finance Department.  Yergeau said it probably would take nine months after the order is placed for the new engine to be built and delivered to Whiteville.

Yergeau said the purchase of the fire engine is necessary to maintain the current ISO (insurance) rating. Three operable engines must be available, he said, and the new engine will replace one that is 30 years old. 

New water meters provide telemetry

The new water meters, all expected to be installed by next spring, will be financed and cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, Currie said. However, those new meters are expected to quickly pay for themselves because they will provide more accurate readings than the older meters they will replace and because the city will be able to bill in one-gallon increments for water actually used instead of thousand-gallon increments currently billed. 

The meters will be read via telemetry instead of manually and instantaneous readings will be able to be taken at any time. The new system will provide real-time notification to the city of leaks at specific locations or systemwide drops in water pressure. 

As water meters age, they begin to slow down and deliver readings that show less than the actual amount of water used, so Currie expects additional revenues from more accurate meter readings to be significant.

After the informal budget workshop and during their regular meeting later in the evening, council unanimously agreed to re-establish within the police department the position of technical services division manager. The change was requested due to turnover in the police department and has no effect on the budget because a vacant police lieutenant position and its funding will reallocated for the technical services division manager. The position has a salary range of $40,714-$60,153. The person hired will perform administrative and technical oversight and supervision of all technical support for the police department.

City Hall open house June 19

New city hall public open house is from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19.

New city hall public open house is from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19.

Currie told council that the new City Hall at Madison and Columbus Streets will be completed in time for a public open house from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19. City offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday, June 20-21, while offices, files and equipment are moved from the current temporary quarters at Hill Plaza to the new building. The new facility will be officially open for the first time on Monday, June 24.

In other business, council approved a letter to the state Local Government Commission (LGC) explaining how the city plans to rectify a minor problem with the city’s audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, approved a contract with its current auditor for the current fiscal year, endorsed the More Powerful NC Campaign to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse in the state and proclaimed National Pollinator Week in Whiteville.

Council approved a letter from Finance Director Coburn Brown to the LGC outlining how the city plans to address concerns expressed by the LGC that the most recent audit showed expenditures and transfers exceeding the amounts authorized by the budget for the general fund and the water and sewer fund. “The City of Whiteville Finance Department will be instituting new budgetary financial controls,” Brown’s letter to the LGC says. “Periodic budget control meetings will be conducted with Department Heads throughout the year to ensure spending levels remain within budget. Moreover, business operations will be modified to adjust spending or timely budget amendments will be submitted to City Council for approval.”

Council also approved a contract with the Whiteville accounting firm Thompson Price Scott & Adams, PA for auditing the city’s books for the fiscal year that ends July 30. The fee of $17,500 is unchanged from last year. However, council agreed by consensus that Brown probably should seek competitive bids for the auditing contract next year, not because of any dissatisfaction with Thompson Price Scott & Adams but because changing auditors every few years is a practice most local governments have found to be beneficial.

A request from the N.C. Dept. of Justice and the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services that the city support the “More Powerful NC Campaign” to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse in the state gained quick approval. Opioid-related overdose deaths in North Carolina have doubled in the past 10 years alone and the problem continues to grow.  The campaign is designed to raise public awareness of the scope and danger of the opioid crisis and serve as a call for action by all North Carolinians. The campaign will outline steps for the safe storage, use and disposal of pain medications, as well as resources for finding treatment and recovery support. 

Council also approved without debate a proposal to authorize Mayor Terry Mann to proclaim June 17-23 as “National Pollinator Week” in Whiteville. It’s an annual resolution that Whiteville adopts as an affiliate of the Bee City USA program.

By consensus, council agreed for John Fisher to fill a vacancy on the newly-created drainage/flood control study committee even though his wife, Lisa, serves as chair of the committee, and agreed to keep seeking volunteers to fill another vacancy on the committee.

Finally, council went into closed session to conduct its annual employee performance evaluation on the city manager. No action was taken after the closed session.

Stuart Rogers