Elizabethtown at odds over budget

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

ELIZABETHTOWN – Elizabethtown recently passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but not without some disagreement.

At the June meeting of the Elizabethtown Town Council, a $6.3 million budget was passe, including $4.8 million for the General Fund and $1.6 million for the Utility Fund.

“(The budget) is the result of several months of hard work between my office, department heads, staff, and collective conversations with this Board, as well as seeking input from community,” said Elizabethtown Town Manager Eddie Madden. “I am confident the budget accomplishes the goals of the Council and meets the needs of the community.”

The $6.3 million budget is a decrease of 14.7 percent from the $7.2 million budget passed for the current fiscal year.

Public safety accounts for the largest percentage of the total budget, comprising 45.3 percent. Other large divisions include general government (23.6 percent), transportation (12.3 percent), and environmental protection (15.6 percent).

The following are highlights from the budget.

General Fund

Revenue – General Fund revenues decreased 14.7 percent from the previous year’s budget, thanks in large part to an 80 percent decrease in grants after the expiration of the SAFER grant that funded several positions in the fire department.

Staff expect $1.5 million in property taxes with a tax rate of $0.62 per $100 of valuation.

“In 11 years, we have provided you with budgets that provide no tax increase, and this budget is no exception,” Madden remarked.

Solid waste fees, established to offset the cost of providing garbage and recycling collection, will increase by 2.5 percent to pass on the increase in rates received from the waste collection vendor.

Expenditures – Comprising the largest percent of expenses from the General Fund are salaries, wages, and benefits, which together make up 57.4 percent of the expenses. The budget includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees except police, who will see a 6.5 percent increase to come into line with surrounding departments and to address turnover within the department. Health insurance rates are estimated to increase 3-5 percent.

Salaries for Council will remain the same.

Capital outlay expenses include $50,000 for two police vehicles and $32,224 in the Street Department for a new mower and a used flatbed dump truck.

With the expiration of a SAFER grant that funded five full-time firefighters, the Town opted to designate funding in the budget for three of the five positions. The decision did not sit well with at least one Council member.

“I said when we hired the SAFER people three years ago, they would come back and want them full-time,” said Councilman Dicky Glenn. “Now they don’t want all five, but they want three. Eventually, they’ll want two more.”

Glenn added he had called 10 or 11 similar municipalities to find out about their fire departments and discovered a common denominator — difficulty recruiting volunteers. Of the nearly dozen he called, the department with the highest number of staff members was Murfreesboro, with seven employees. According to Glenn, Elizabethtown Fire Department’s stated goal is 11 employees.

“I think nine is fiscally conservative,” Glenn said, adding, “I think we need the fire department, but I think there are better places to put money … I’m a lot more apt to die from a heart attack than a house catching on fire.”

The Elizabethtown Fire Department recently launched a volunteer recruitment campaign. For additional information on volunteering with the Department, call 910-862-4586, or email anorris@elizabethtownnc.org.

Water Fund

Revenue — The Town expects water and sewer charges to generate $1.5 million during the coming fiscal year. Though passing along a 2.5 percent inflation adjustment, staff do not expect the increase to have major effect on the average user. A family that uses 3,000 gallons per month may see an increase of 95 cents on their monthly bill.

Expenditures — A little more than $70,000 will be used to rehab well #2, and staff have requested that $139,439 be placed in capital reserve in anticipation of the need for an additional well and other water and sewer projects. The Town will invest at least $110,000 in Glenwood — $75,000 for a lift station and $40,000 for a generator for the lift station.

The budget passed, with council members Herman Lewis, Rufus Lloyd, Howell Clark, Ricky Leinwand, Paula Greene in favor. Glenn opposed the measure.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal