Elizabethtown Town Council considers how revitalization and trucks fit into budget

By: By Chrysta Carroll - ccarroll@civitasmedia.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Elizabethtown Town Council got its first look at the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-18 this week, but has to consider what to do about some vehicles.

The $6.54 million revenue budget — an increase of $358,337 over last year — includes $4.9 million in the general fund and $1.6 million in utility funds.

Despite the increase, taxes are not proposed to be raised. Water rates will increase by 2 percent in order to keep pace with inflation, and the town is passing along a 2 percent increase in sanitation rates from Waste Industries. Sewer rates, which increased last year in order to bring the town in line with the state’s requirements for grants, will remain unchanged in the upcoming fiscal year.

On the expenditure side, the town expects to bring in $6.51 million. The figure includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for employees, which Town Manager Eddie Madden said is lower than the state’s projected 2.4 percent increase. Salaries for Council members are not expected to increase.

Due to a reduction in capital expenditures, the town will spend $50,000 less on public facilities, even with a $15,000 expense to refinish the floor at the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market.

With the replacement of several long-time police officers and a decrease in debt service by discontinuing the financing of new police cars, the budget for the police department is expected to decrease by 4.8 percent.

The fire department will also see a decrease — 1.1 percent — due to decreases in operations and services and one-time repairs completed last year. The addition of five full-time firefighters will be paid for under a SAFER grant from FEMA.

Town staff recommend that $64,809 be placed in capital reserve for an additional well and other unforeseen projects.

A matter of disagreement arose May 1 concerning town vehicles and the budget. When a 2004, 2.5-ton diesel engine leaf and limb truck recently experienced engine failure and was deemed irreparable, town staff learned the cost to replace the engine would be around $20,000. The town went without leaf and limb collection for a couple of weeks and heard from disgruntled residents, so a decision was made to lease a truck for $6,800 per month.

In a previously unrelated matter, the fire department was looking at replacing an engine truck sometime in the near future with a new one that would provide dual certification (as an engine in town and as a tanker for mutual aid in the county). The truck the department wants to dispose of has the same chassis as the leaf and limb truck that experienced failure, so the Public Works Department requested the purchase of the new tanker/engine fire truck — a cost of $325,000 — be expedited and the current 2.5-ton diesel engine truck given to the Public Works Department to be retrofitted with a dump bed. Transferring the truck would create an immediate need in the Fire Department for the new vehicle.

Additionally, the budget includes $145,000 for a new grapple truck for the Public Works Department, which Public Works Director Pat DeVane said would make debris collection more efficient, and the undertaking of Phase II of the downtown revitalization project when some debt is retired in the fall.

“I would like to put off purchase of the truck until after the downtown streetscape,” said Councilman Dicky Glenn. “Until I know what revitalization will cost, I don’t want to spend any more money.”

He added, “I’m not necessarily against the truck, I just don’t know if we can afford it.”

When a motion was made to table the issue to pursue funding options, Glenn objected, saying every month the issue is delayed equals $6,800 the town is paying to rent a truck.

DeVane informed the board the public works employees are currently raking and putting debris in a dump truck by hand.

“We desperately need a decision,” he said. “If (the fire department) is getting rid of the truck, I need it.”

“My problem is you have no idea what payments are going to be on the downtown revitalization, but you’re willing to commit $325,000 for a truck,” Glenn said to the board. “That might put us to where we can only do eight blocks instead of nine. I thought the priority of this board was revitalization on Broad Street.”

“We need to be careful what we do here,” said Mayor Sylvia Campbell, adding that she appreciated Glenn’s caution. The matter was tabled.

A public hearing for the budget will be held Monday, June 5, at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll