Ellerbe town commissioners consider cuts

By: By Christine S. Carroll - Staff Writer

ELLERBE — Town Commissioners will get a look June 20 at how their proposed snips and tweaks might shape Ellerbe’s 2018-19 budget.

Commissioners Fred Cloninger, Elsie Freeman and Jeremy McKenzie met Thursday afternoon with Mayor Lee Berry and Town Clerk Jane Smith for a second budget workshop, looking for ways to generate more revenue while also improving services.

“It’s the little things that add up” to savings, Berry said as he and commissioners suggested what they might pare and what they would like to add.

Potentially on the chopping block: donations to the United Way, the Mineral Springs Improvement Council’s Mayfest and the fledgling Ellerbe Strawberry Festival.

“If you’re going to (possibly) go up on people’s taxes, you’ve got to stop giving money away,” Berry said, meeting agreement from commissioners.

A tax increase isn’t a sure thing, but Smith was told to look at a couple of potential increases and the money they might raise. Commissioners said they didn’t like the idea of an increase, especially in the wake of the county’s 4-cent increase per $100 of property value.

One of Ellerbe’s difficulties is that it steadily has lost tax base during the past few years, as industry and businesses have moved out. Without those, the town’s 600 households do not generate a large enough tax base to keep the town from what Berry called “gradually going broke.”

Commissioners also discussed:

• raising fees to participate in town-sponsored sports: “I think we’re too cheap on registration,” Commissioner Cloninger said;

• increasing rates for water use: “You hate to do it, but that’s the department we’re hurtin’ in,” Berry said;

• and charging more for plots in the town cemetery, especially for out-of-towners.

Berry also would like to reduce the number of visits by a contractor hired to enforce town codes. He comes weekly now; Berry would like to see that drop to biweekly in the summer and monthly in the winter, when many plant-related problems lie dormant.

Commissioners and Berry would like to:

• add a bookeeper to help Smith keep city financial records up to date, so they can review them every month;

• hire a grant writer, whose commission would be determined by the size of grants he or she won for the town;

• raise the amount allotted for cemetery rejuvenation so recent efforts don’t come to naught;

• and pay full-time town employees a small monthly stipend to offset the cost of using their private cellphones for town business.

And then there’s always the unpredictable, which can’t we written into a budget: What happens if a piece of equipment breaks down and requires significant repairs or replacement?

On June 20, Berry and town commissioners will receive a packet outlining the effects of budget proposals made Thursday.

That will give them five days of review before public comment during a special meeting June 25, the meeting at which they will have to vote on a final budget in order to meet the state-mandated deadline.

By Christine S. Carroll

Staff Writer

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]