LAURINBURG — While the handful of residents who attended Monday’s annual Public Input Session voiced a myriad of concerns — the abundance of litter, lack of jobs and influx of drugs and violence topping the list — some also proposed ways to combat negative connotations and showcase the city’s strengths.
The sparse turnout — less than 10 people — seated in council chambers facilitated an informal one-on-one approach with elected officials and staff as residents took turns speaking into a microphone before forming into groups and consolidating ideas, as per usual in past sessions that have seen as many as 50 people.
Resident Charles Parker pressured city staff to provide a recap of action taken based on resident’s concerns raised at last year’s session, to which city planner Brandi Deese gave a lengthy outline of beautification projects undertaken by the city, including plantings on Lauchwood Drive and a tree giveaway. The last of those projects, city entrance signs, were originally budgeted at $25,000 but that number was bumped up by the city’s Beautification Committee to $46,000, Deese said. The additional money will come from the salary of a city position that was eliminated by staff consolidation.
Deese also noted the city’s continuing efforts to remove substandard housing, including a partnership with the county, which has waived its tipping fee and with Habitat for Humanity, which works to save, rather than demolish, dilapidated homes.
Utilities director Stacy McQuage said the city has currently contracted for six inmates at a cost of $1 per day each to clean roadways of litter, but that he hopes to receive more. City Manger Charles Nichols said the city recently purchased and rehabilitated an out-of-commission school bus to transport inmate workers.
Litter was at the top of Parker’s concerns, as he spoke at length of the negative impact it has on business and people who otherwise would consider locating to Laurinburg or Scotland County, with city staff acknowledging that there is a problem but noting that they have limited resources at their disposal to work towards a solution.
Rodney Hassler, praising the city for it’s work to punctually handle trash and recycling collections during the recent ice storms, also spoke about the “ongoing” litter problem, calling for a citywide anit-litter campaign. Hassler also voiced concerned about animal control and the lack of action taken to address the feral cat population in his neighborhood.
Deese said an anti-litter campaign was voted down by city council during last year’s budget meetings, as it would have doubled the price of its beautification projects.
Real estate agent Laurene Stubbs, noting the county’s tax rate as an example of a negative thing she hears often, said the city should find a way to display its positive aspects — its people.
“Laurinburg has more to officer,” Stubbs said. “It’s more than tax and it’s more than trash on the roads.”
Stubbs proposed a welcoming committee who would visit city newcomers or the creation of block parties and other community events to make residents feel at home, with resident Madeline Whitehurst seconding her ideas.
“I could tell you who I sold a house to and you could just love them to death,” Stubbs said. “… We have great people, that’s what it’s all about.”
Her comments sparked a discussion about the county’s tax rate, with Nichols projecting a slide showing Lauirnburg’s taxes on the low end of a comparison between cities of comparable size.
“The money you spend in Scotland County is actually very reasonable,” Mayor Charles Parker said, noting the average price of homes as one example.
The Rev. Kenneth Samuda said the focus should be on taking care of residents who have long made Laurinburg their home, saying that because of a lack of good-paying jobs, “honest people are becoming criminals.”
“We need to address the drugs in this community,” he said. “We need to address the violence in this community. … Purpose is gone from Scotland County. People are leaving because there is nothing here. People are leaving because they are afraid to walk the streets.”
Resident Howard Whitehurst said he was concerned about paint left behind by utility workers who use it as markers to locate natural gas lines. Paint on sidewalks and brick pavers, he says, in some cases lingers for months.
“If some teenager came along through the city and did the same thing, they would be arrested,” he said.
Optimist Club member Wade Hatcher voiced concerns about the lack of curbing and guttering in some city neighborhoods, particularly sections annexed in the 1990s, as well as intersections such as Blues Farm and Turnpike roads which have stoplights that don’t change at the correct time.
Hatcher also said he has seen some “creative driving” at the exit for St. Andrews University, which only allows for a right turn onto Lauchwood Drive.
Residents formed two groups where they wrote down their top ideas, which were then ranked by all. A proactive drug prevention program received seven votes, an anti-litter campaign, five votes and a “welcome wagon,” or increased hospitality, three votes.
Those concerns will be taken into account when the council begins its budget meetings in advance of the July 1 start of the fiscal year, which Parker estimated could begin next month.
“This gets it started,” he said. “… We push and pull until we get it worked out.”
Parker said poor attendence could have been caused by the change of date after ice and snow or the “competition” with the meeting of the Scotland County Board of Education. He said council may look at new approaches to attract more public input.
“This is your city,” he said. “We want to hear from you.”
Anyone who wants to have an issue heard can contact the city of Laurinburg at 910-276-8324. A list of city staff and their respective contact information can be found at laurinburg.org.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.