Hamlet City Council seeks public’s input on budget

By: By Christine Carroll - Staff Writer
Daily Journal file photo A representative from Tsunami demonstrates the security camera during a budget workshop in March. The council has added security cameras to its agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.

HAMLET — Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday to hear public opinion before adopting a 2018-19 budget, review again buying surveillance cameras for the police department and vote on a zoning change that would allow the building of a solar farm on the edge of town.

By state law, council members must adopt the budget for the new fiscal year by June 30. Since March, they have spent a handful of sometimes-testy work and regular sessions crafting it.

“There’s going to be some people on the council who are not going to be happy with the budget” in whatever form it passes Tuesday, Mayor Bill Bayless said Friday.

But, he said, it’s best to remember that “it’s a working document.”

As it stands, the proposed budget includes money to resurface a basketball court in south Hamlet ($60,000), buy two alarm-enhanced air packs for firefighters ($6,800 per unit) and purchase a newish truck to pick up plant debris ($39,000).

In their series of budget talks, council members rejected the police department’s request for the immediate hiring of a narcotics/gang officer, at an estimated $48,000 per year. They also scrapped requests for a car for city administrators ($21,000), an increase in demolition financing ($25,000, bringing the total to $50,000), new entrance signs at city limits ($15,000), a used pickup for firefighters to refurbish ($14,000), a police cruiser ($36,517), seven M-4 assault rifles for police officers ($4,550) and Tsunami cameras to post at public events ($24,000).

Purchasing the Tsunami cameras — or ones like them — will come up in “old business” during Tuesday’s meeting. Council members with law-enforcement backgrounds seem most enamored of the cameras’ capabilities to help police maintain order at city events.

“We never had a final decision on that,” Bayless said of the cameras. “We don’t know what else is out there” beside the Tsunami brand. “Those cameras were never off the budget completely.”

A budget is a fluid thing, Bayless explained: The city may be able to buy the cameras later, as revenue comes in.

If the cameras were added to the proposed budget, he said, city savings could take a bigger hit because — by law — budgets must balance. But, Bayless said, the city usually doesn’t use all of what it proposes taking from savings; much of it goes back into the budget.

“You always appropriate out of the fund balance way more than you think you’re going to use,” said Bayless, who has been mayor more than four years and served on the council eight years before that.

Coming in at $8,254,725, the draft budget presented in May would have required a $743,075 withdrawal from city savings to make it balance. Council members made proposed cuts totaling about $113,000, leaving about $100,000 still required from fund balance.

To raise revenue and make fees more consistent across the board, council members also voted in May to adopt a new system of calculating water and sewer rates, as well as fees for such things as notary services and planning permits.

They won’t make up the deficit, but starting July 1 — if council members approve them Tuesday — water and sewer fees will be assessed by usage, plus a base fee. The base fee for water will be $18 and for sewer use, $13. Users will be charged per 1,000 gallons, with the fees rising as usage climbs.

By law, water and wastewater services must pay for themselves and not draw money from the general fund.

Also Tuesday, council members will consider rezoning 37 acres of the old Ideal Dairy Farm tract on U.S. 74 East from residential to industrial use. N.C. State University professor Yan Solihin and his company, Greentegrity Land Investment, want to lease the land for a solar farm.

The city’s Planning Board unanimously approved the zoning change from “residential agriculture” to “light industry” in May, sending its recommendation on to the City Council.

A similar positive vote by the City Council would allow the zoning change, paving the way for Solihin to ask permission to lease the land for the solar farm. That petition would come before the council next month, City Clerk and Zoning Administrator Gail Strickland said Friday.

Daily Journal file photo A representative from Tsunami demonstrates the security camera during a budget workshop in March. The council has added security cameras to its agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.
https://www.yourdailyjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_Hamlet_cam-2-.jpgDaily Journal file photo A representative from Tsunami demonstrates the security camera during a budget workshop in March. The council has added security cameras to its agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.

By Christine Carroll

Staff Writer

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

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