Laurinburg council retreat revists crime consultant issue

By: By Katelin Gandee - Staff reporter
Katelin Gandee | Laurinburg Exchange Mayor Matthew Block and council members Mary Evans and Andrew Williamson discuss topics at the second part of the annual retreat.

LAURINBURG — The Laurinburg City Council was expected to use this week’s retreat to address 10 new topics that officials were unable to get to last month.

But Mayor Block still wanted to talk about two issues that seemed to be unresolved during the initial Jan. 30 retreat — a crime consultant and building a community center.

Council members met for about three hours Tuesday night to finish up their planning session that began last week. The first session lasted about five hours.

Block said he wanted to revisit the issue of crime because it is likely to be a topic raised during the Citizen Input Session on Feb. 27, at 6 p.m. at the AB Gibson Center.

Councilwoman Mary Evans had broached the idea of crime consultant at the January retreat. She said it might be helpful to have an outside expert review the city’s crime fighting efforts.

Block called Evans’ suggestion of a consultant “a benign” issue that should have garnered more support from the council.

But a majority of the council sided with Police Chief Darwin “Duke” Williams who said his department has a number of innovative programs and that his officers might look at the outside specialist as an “insult“ to those efforts.

“Frankly I was a little disappointed in the enthusiasm or progressiveness that council wants to attack these issues.” Block said. “Laurinburg is not doing well, and the citizens want strong leadership, they want things turned around.”

Block then read crime statistics from 2015 that he said were from the State Bureau of Investigation that showed Laurinburg had 21 unsolved robberies. He asked how those number differ from the statistics collected by Laurinburg police. Williams has often said that some of the statistics used by critics to show the city’s high crime rate are inaccurate.

“Whether or not these are factual … this is what people are seeing,” Block said

Councilwoman Mary Jo Adams reminded Block that the police chief was not at Tuesday’s meeting to talk about the crime numbers.

But Block said that City Manager Charles Nichols could speak for Williams since he is his supervisor.

Nichols said he would have provided the figures or the police chief if he had known the topic was going to be discussed.

Nichols added that he has spoken to North Carolina League of Municipalities about the possibility of obtaining a consultant if council decides one is needed.

The other topic that was resurrected was a community center.

Despite some on council arguing that the best way forward on a proposed center would be to partner with the county and Scotland Memorial Hospital, Block said the city could do the project alone.

Councilman Curtis Leak said he would prefer a joint meeting with the county to discuss a center. City officials have expressed concern about the cost of building and maintaining a community center.

“My philosophy for recreation is I tell people the city of Laurinburg isn’t in the recreation business,” Leak said.

The council agreed to figure out a vision for the community center before holding any joint meetings.

In other business, council discussed the possibility of expanding a special tax district to generate more funds for the city projects like beautification.

The current district — restricted to downtown Laurinburg — generates about $20,000 with the city matching it making it around $42,000.

Block wants to expand the tax district to include the commercial properties in other parts of town.

“If we wanted to embark on a major beautification program.” Block said “That money just has to be spent on that district.”

Williamson said city officials would need to show residents and business owners what the extra tax money would be going toward. Any change would also require a public hearing before council voted on the issue.

Other topics:

Sidewalk expansion. Evans suggested the possibly of closing a portion of Main Street in downtown to vehicles and expanding the sidewalks to restrict the area to walkers. Some council members said business owners are likely to oppose the idea.

Slumlord accountability. Evans brought up enforcing the fines on people who fail to maintain their properties. Nichols says that the city issues warnings and fines to property owners. Residents can report a house they find unsightly to the city to see if something can be done about it.

Fiber initiative. Williamson wanted an update on the fiber project. Council was told that the equipment is being shipped to Public Works and should be installed soon. The city are allowing a company to come in and see if the system can be used.

Katelin Gandee | Laurinburg Exchange Mayor Matthew Block and council members Mary Evans and Andrew Williamson discuss topics at the second part of the annual retreat. Gandee | Laurinburg Exchange Mayor Matthew Block and council members Mary Evans and Andrew Williamson discuss topics at the second part of the annual retreat.
Council holds second session

By Katelin Gandee

Staff reporter

Reach Katelin Gandee at 910-506-3171

Reach Katelin Gandee at 910-506-3171