ELLERBE — Mayor Lee Berry has invited town commissioners to become unusually involved in crafting Ellerbe’s 2018-19 budget, to the surprise of at least one commission member.
In the past, the mayor and town clerk have drafted the budget while attending to department requests funneled through Town Commission members. Then the town has aired the budget at a public hearing before commissioners voted on adoption.
This year, commissioners will get in on the ground floor — all five of them crafting the budget alongside the mayor and town clerk in a series of workshop meetings.
“I was (as) shocked as the next person” when Berry said at Monday night’s regular commission meeting that “he wanted us involved,” Commissioner Elsie Freeman said Wednesday. Freeman has been a town commissioner for three years.
She said she wasn’t sure why Berry was changing procedure — income and revenue are unlikely to change much in the town of 600, so no significant changes to the budget are likely.
“All I know,” she said with a chuckle, is that “I’m getting my numbers together on things I want.”
At the meeting Monday night, Berry did say that the town’s contract with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was “killing us.” The town also has plans for a library renovation, stricter code enforcement and cemetery revival, all of which will cost money.
“(But) the town of Ellerbe is not financially strong for various reasons,” Berry said before proposing at least two and maybe three workshops before the budget must be passed June 30. (He could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday despite repeated telephone calls.)
Commissioners don’t seem to know what to expect of the budget workshops, but they welcome the opportunity to have input.
“I don’t know what our options are going to be,” said Fred Cloninger, who joined the commission this year and was referring specifically to what the town pays the sheriff’s office for 24/7 service.
“I’m sure there’s something we’ll look at, but right now … I can’t think of an option, a viable option” that would make things more fiscally feasible.
“I know municipalities all around are fighting the same battle,” he added, although Ellerbe’s fight may be tougher than some. It has no tax base to speak of, and it buys its water and sewer service from the county, so has little control of rates.
“We don’t have all the Perdues and shopping centers,” Cloninger said. “We’ve probably already dipped into (savings) probably more than we’d like to.
“We’re by no means in danger of going bankrupt, but we need some serious looks at things.”
Commissioner Jeremy McKenzie nearly echoed Berry’s statement.
“As of now, our town’s not financially stable,” he said. “We’re kind of getting in the hole from (what the town pays to) the sheriff’s department. It’s killing us.”
Commissioners Jean Fletcher and Archie Robinson could not be reached for comment.
Town Clerk Jane Smith confirmed that “it’s been a long time since we’ve had a work session, (but) our budget’s going to be tight this year.”
Mayor Berry “wanted to get them more involved” as a result, Smith said.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]