GARLAND — With a deadline for the 2018-2019 budget coming up, town commissioners spent Thursday night looking for ways to save money.
The budget is more than $883,000 in revenue and expenditures from the general fund, water/sewer operations, and the Powell Bill Fund which goes towards street repairs. According to early figures, Garland is over budget by about $25,000 because of waste management services.
To help, Commissioner Ralph Smith volunteered to cut $13,000 from the Streets and Highway portion of the budget, which is more than $112,000. Smith wanted to use the funds to purchase a chipper. He suggested that other departments should make cuts as well.
The town also looked at cutting back needs from the Parks and Recreation budget. It’s estimated at $37,000. Commissioner Eddie Bronson Jr. said he needed a portion of funds for erosion control around the basketball court and mulch maintenance for playground safety at Curtis D. Cain Memorial Park. Mayor Winifred Murphy expressed how she would like to see improvements continue for the park and would hate to see funds cut, since it benefits residents. One of the plans mentioned was a walking trail, which would require donations from the community because of a slim budget.
“I think one of the greatest things that’s happened over the last year has been that park,” Murphy said. “It’s beautiful to see the children, the young adults and families out there everyday.”
After going back the recreation department, a suggestion was made to cut $10,000 from the parks and rec portion. Murphy encouraged Bronson to keep working on getting tables and chairs for the park. She presented the idea of getting students from Sampson Community College and Union High School’s agricultural department to assist with development.
Commissioners also took a look at the Police Department budget which is close to $83,000. One of the concerns brought up was having $600 for vehicle maintenance. Commissioner Lee Carberry thought it wasn’t enough for tire changes and other needs such as oil changes. Commissioner Austin Brown questioned why the department is running two vehicles.
A couple of years ago, Garland Commissioners made a decision to start its own police force after ending a contract with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office. While being consulted, Murphy brought up how costs for the department was to get lower each year.
Carberry said he understands the needs for the park, but questioned if official should cut requests from Chief Ronald Matthews.
“If it’s unnecessary spending. Yes,” Bronson said.
While alluding to fairness for emergency services, Brown said he would like to seeing a contribution being made to the local fire department.
“This town used to give the fire department $5,000,” Brown said. “They cut and they gave them nothing.”
Murphy added that safety is important for any community, but didn’t want the investment to outweigh other programs for residents.
To help with maintenance and repairs for vehicles, Ralph Smith made a suggestion to transfer $650 from uniforms, accessories and contract services.
Another major need for the town is a $22,500 roof repair at town hall. The estimated total for the public buildings budget is more than $54,000.
“Or pray that you can get by another year,” Brown said. “It’s leaking now.”
Murphy added that another need is the town’s abandoned ABC building, with leaking problems. Brown said the town would unable to do both projects and that it would require $20,000 to $30,000 more. Town officials said there’s been inquiries about renting or purchasing the property.
“Some of the board members said they wanted to sell the ABC store, but in order to that, we’re going to have to do some kind of repair to it, unless someone is going to but it as is,” Brown said. “They’ll be taking a hit.”
But for Brown, the top priority is fixing the town hall building.
“This is where the town people come and do their business,” Brown said.
During budget talks, town commissioners also discussed cost of living raises for certain employees. The matter along with other budget matters will be discussed at another budget meeting, which has not been announced. Before the 2018-2019 budget is officially adopted, a public hearing will be announced for residents to view at town hall or online.
“We certainly want your input,” Murphy said. “You probably heard some things you like and some things you didn’t. We certainly thank you for coming and being a part of this.”
Attorney search continues
The board is also searching for an attorney to assist with legal matters. Micharl Porter resigned from the position in April.
Murphy made several phone calls to a few attorneys, but they faced time conflicts with Garland’s meetings being held on the second Tuesday of the month. The North Carolina League of Municipalities sent suggestions. A proposal from The Brough Law Firm and Senior Attorney Ellis Hankins was presented by Murphy.
She said Hankins is very knowledgeable with government and was bestowed The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the most prestigious award presented by the Governor of North Carolina.
“It’s very difficult to get any local attorneys who want to help us,” Murphy said.
The board thought the asking rate of $190 per hour or $700 per meeting was too high. Garland plans to use $10,000 for legal services. Murphy thought Hankins was a good choice because of his expertise in the field and providing legal assistance to municipalities.
“He’ll probably put the town in the bankrupt with these kind of prices,” Commissioner S.J. Smith said after Murphy tried to set up a meeting. “I don’t think we need him.”
“I think we need somebody, but we need to do further research,” Ralph Smith said.
Brown added that the town would have to amend the budget if The Brough Law Firm was selected. Murphy stressed that the town is dealing with legal matters that needs to be addressed.
“When you have an attorney that doesn’t know local government, we find ourselves getting into trouble and that may cost us more money,” Murphy said.
Auxiliary officers approved
During a previous meeting, Garland commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance to hire auxiliary officers for the Garland Police Department.
The approval is required before Garland Police Chief Ronald Matthews selects people to help him with patrols. According to the N.C. League of Municipalities and Murphy, a public hearing was not required to approve the ordinance.
The auxiliary unit may consist of trained volunteers who take orders from the chief. Participants are entitled to benefits under state statute, but they must serve without compensation. A certain amount will be determined by the chief and individuals are approved by the Garland Board of Commissioners.
As of early May, Matthews said he had a few candidates for auxiliary officers, but they withdrew their names.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-592-8137. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.