Last updated: December 20. 2013 12:09AM - 552 Views
By - bshiles@civitasmedia.com - 910-416-5165

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MAXTON — Despite healthy audit reviews from both the town’s auditor and state Local Government Commission, Maxton’s interim town manager warned commissioners at the town’s monthly meeting not to think the town has solved its financial woes.

“We have a lot of needs,” Angela Pitchford said. “We’re facing tough times. There is an uphill battle.”

According to Pitchford, every department in the town has “critical needs.” As an example, she pointed to the town’s need for a new sewer truck to replace an aging vehicle that she said “breaks down every other week.”

“The average cost of a new sewer truck is about $250,000,” Pitchford said.

The warning to remain financially frugal also came from Myra Tyndall, the town’s former finance director who now oversees Maxton’s financial affairs as a contractor. She told the commissioners that even though the town’s financial condition is improving, it is too soon to dissolve the town’s system of operating four days a week and doing away with employee furloughs.

“I can’t see us coming off furloughs yet. If we do, in six months we will be back where we started,” Tyndall said.

According to Tyndall, town employees have “made a lot of sacrifices,” including paying about 20 percent of their health insurance, a benefit that used to be free.

Tyndall also works as town clerk for Gibson.

The warnings to remain financially cautious came in the wake of an audit presented by John Masters of the accounting firm S. Preston Douglas & Associates. In a letter to Pitchford, Sharon Edmundson, director of the fiscal management section of the Department of State Treasurer’s Local Government Finance Division, also commended the town for its overall financial improvement, calling the improvement “stellar.”

Masters told the commissioners that the town’s financial conditions improved during the fiscal year 2012-13 because of “excellent decisions” made on how to manage town finances. He reported that the town had $234,000 more in cash on hand on June 30, the end of 2012-13, than it did during the previous year and that overall debt was down.

Masters also praised the town for its ability to increase its General Fund fund balance to 9 percent, above the 8 percent minimum fund balance that the state Local Government Commission recommends.

Mayor Sallie McLean said after the meeting that the town is “coming out of the hole.”

“We have to keep moving forward,” she said. “It’s an uphill battle.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the town’s two newly elected council members took the oath of office. Those winning the two seats, both four-year terms, in November were newcomer Margaret Wilkerson Gilchrist and former Commissioner Emmett “Chip” Morton

They replace James McDougald and Victor R. Womack Sr. Womack lost re-election to a second term. McDougald didn’t seek re-election.

Gilchrist, 69, said shortly after being elected that she plans to use her voice on the commission for the “good of the citizens of Maxton.”

“My main thing is education and jobs,” she said. “I’d really like to see us partner with RCC to provide training for both our young people and adults so that they already have the job skills necessary when a business locates in the area.”

Morton, 56, served on the town board for 16 years before losing his seat in 2011. He said he ran again this year at the request of Maxton residents.

In other business, the commissioners:

— Approved minor changes to a lease being negotiated with the Public Schools of Robeson County for use of the old Townsend Middle School gym. The town wants to use it as a community center.

— Approved renting a room at the old Union Station Building to Willie Sullivan. Sullivan plans to use the facility as a site to house and perform work on a sailplane.

Bob Shiles works for Civitas Media as a staff writer for The Robesonian.

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