City’s proposedbudget includesfee increases

LAURINBURG — At a reconvened budget meeting on Monday, Laurinburg City Manager Charles Nichols proposed utilizing $323,000 of fund balance to equalize the city’s general fund and imposing fee increases to balance the city’s water and sewer and solid waste funds.

The proposed budget includes a 35 percent increase in water and sewer rates, which equates to an additional $12.75 monthly increase for the average customer. The residential sanitation fee would increase by $2.50 monthly.

Fund balance in those two funds has been depleted after being used in previous years in lieu of a fee increase, Nichols said. Last year, the city appropriated $2.8 million of fund balance in order to balance the water and sewer budget.

Revenues expected from the expansion of FCC North America have also not yet been realized due to the plant not operating at full capacity, Nichols said.

“I understand your concern that people are going to get some sticker shock, but we don’t have any other choice,” Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker said, addressing councilman Curtis Leak, who said the water and sewer fee could help drive some residents out of the city limits.

Leak, along with council members Dee Hammond and J.D. Willis, voiced concerns that city customers were going to get what Willis called a “double whammy” with the $55 solid waste accessibility fee posed by Scotland County Manager Kevin Patterson in county budget talks, which would apply to municipal residents, businesses and nonprofits.

“We’ve tried to avoid doing this and now we need to just to remain competitive,” with other cities and towns that have comparable rates, councilman Drew Williamson said.

When discussing the general fund, Willis also argued at length that the city needs to “tighten its belt” before using fund balance.

“I would not vote to use $300,000 of fund balance without cutting things first,” he said. “… There are some things in this budget that we can do without or delay for a year or so.”

But after hearing City Manager Charles Nichols report that the city is projected to use a negligible amount of the more than $600,000 of fund balance budgeted for the current fiscal year’s general fund, council members Dee Hammond and Drew Williamson gave their OK on the proposed amount. Councilwoman Mary Jo Adams was absent from the meeting because of a family issue, Mayor Tommy Parker announced early in the meeting.

The injection of fund balance would include a 2-percent cost of living increase for city employees.

In extended debates over use of fund balance, city staff was directed to look at alternative options to purchasing a fire truck. Cuts made by council to general fund expenditures since budget talks began total about $864,000.

Council took no formal action during budget discussions on Monday, but directed Nichols and Betty Galloway, the city’s director of human resources, to clarify a policy regarding employee certifications. Some employees did not receive promised raises after attaining certifications, Willis said, and Hammonds voiced concerns that others may have retained a raise after their certification lapsed.

The meeting was recessed for 6:30 p.m. today, to allow for council to discuss the budget during its regular meeting.

Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-506-3023.