Two weeks ago the City of Laurinburg held its yearly Citizen Input Session. If you are wondering why it was held in the unwelcoming month of February, the answer is that it is held early in each calendar year as the first step in the development of the City’s upcoming budget. The City’s yearly budget will be developed by City staff and City Council in a series of meetings over the next several months and finalized by July 1st. Before starting on the budget, the City has had this longstanding tradition of soliciting citizen input, presumably so that the City’s budget will reflect those things that are important to the citizens. Makes sense, right?
The Citizen Input Session was notable not only for what the citizens expressed as their priorities, but also for the remarkably robust turnout, which increased 4000% (that’s correct, four thousand percent) over the past two years combined. A roomful of Laurinburg citizens left the safety and comfort of their homes to share with City Council and city staff those issues that were important to them, in the hope that progress would be made in these areas. Although many things were mentioned, the most popular items were; Recreation Center (88 percent mentioned this), greater focus on beautification, litter, and downtown improvements (50 percent mentioned each of these), and demolishing vacant buildings and more police with higher police pay (38 percent mentioned these concerns). Regarding City Council’s controversial plans to demolish the current city hall and build a $5.5 million new one, the citizens were instructed by city staff not to mention this issue at this meeting, which is odd, to say the least. Nevertheless, several tables couldn’t contain themselves and voiced their opposition to this project anyway.
As Mayor, on behalf of Laurinburg City Council and staff, I want to thank each and every citizen who took the time to come out and participate. We asked for your input, now it is time to see if and how these priorities can be incorporated into this year’s budget. Before I was Mayor, back in the early 2000s, I used to go to these Citizen Input Sessions each year and, not surprisingly, many of the same issues were mentioned back then. It is high time that we make progress in all of these areas, otherwise, what is the point of having citizens come out to these sessions? I encourage not only the citizens who attended, but all Laurinburg citizens to follow the budget process over the coming months, to make sure that your priorities are being considered.
Since my last column, there have been several very positive developments in Laurinburg, particularly with two of Laurinburg’s greatest assets, St. Andrews University and Scotland Memorial Hospital. SAU announced plans to field a football team beginning in the fall of 2017. The opportunity to participate in collegiate sports is a major drawing card for students considering St. Andrews, therefore an endeavor as sizeable as fielding a football team is auspicious news indeed! We look forward with eager anticipation to cheering on The Knights on the gridiron in the near future. At Scotland Health, the recent annual community report continues to show a strong and growing health care system. In this day and age, to have a successful community-owned health care system and hospital is no small feat. Scotland Health is the major economic engine in our community, and the importance of its continued success cannot be overstated.
So it has been a positive beginning to 2016 here in the city of Laurinburg. There are, of course, many, many challenges in the year ahead. But with continued citizen involvement and our major assets working hard to reach their potential, I am hopeful for our future and hope you are too.
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.