City counciltalks fireequipment

LAURINBURG — In a brief budget meeting before its agenda work session on Tuesday, the Laurinburg City Council elected to minimize the city money spent on new fire equipment in the immediate future.

This year, the city fire department is due to receive a new fire truck, funded by the county fire tax, in the Scotland County Fire Commission’s regular replacement rotation. While that rotation is designed to acquire a truck built on a commercial chassis for $300,000, at the request of Laurinburg Fire Department Chief Randy Gibson council has considered adding an additional $150,000 to that amount for a truck on a custom chassis, which among other benefits would have a longer life.

“It’s a very complex, deep issue … the fire commission’s involved, the county’s involved, we’re becoming involved, and I think everybody agrees we want our men to have good equipment,” said Mayor Tommy Parker.

However, council agreed that the city should avoid funding a machine that will technically be owned by the county, and then perhaps consider completely funding a custom truck in the next few years.

“The problem that I have is that, if it was my money I wouldn’t be buying a new car,” said council member J.D. Willis. “If I was going to buy a car I’d buy one I can pay for right now. We’ve got to get to the point where we start thinking about taxpayers’ money as our own money when we start spending it.”

Council member Mary Jo Adams proposed that the city accept a standard truck, funded by the county, and outfit it with hoses and other firefighting equipment using $125,000 from the 2015-2016 budget. That motion was unanimously supported by the rest of council.

In other business, council voted in favor of a resolution supporting Senate Bill 369, the Sales Tax Fairness Act. That bill has proposed to redistributing state sales taxes by population rather than point of sale, effectively moving funds away from cities with large commercial districts that attract rural shoppers.

“There’s this thought about two North Carolinas: the larger cities get all the good stuff and we’re struggling here,” said council member Drew Williamson. “I think this is an effort to level the playing field.”

According to City Manager Charles Nichols, Laurinburg’s sales taxes would double — from $1.3 million to $2.6 million by 2019 — under the bill.

“Obviously it’s going to be a big benefit to the rural districts,” Nichols said. “(The legislators) are well aware that there’s going to be negativity. They’ve got their larger municipalities that are strongly against this.”

In other business on Tuesday, Laurinburg-Maxton Airport Director Jo Ann Gentry presented the airport’s 2015-2016 budget, which totals $1,216,800. That budget is a slight increase — $14,700 — from the current year’s, due to a two percent cost of living raise for employees and a one percent increase in the airport’s contribution to its employees’ 401(k) plans.

“Under expenses, you will see, a lot of the figures are pretty similar to the existing 2014-2015 budget,” said Gentry, adding that the airport’s water and sewer and rent income are not expected to increase significantly.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.