Garland feeling budget pinch, debate salary matter

By: By Chase Jordan -

GARLAND — With the 2017-18 fiscal year approaching, commissioners are still crunching numbers for the budget. Some of the pinches that arose include water/sewer operations and salaries, which stirred emotions during a Thursday meeting.

During a Thursday meeting, Town Clerk/Finance Officer Pamela Cashwell presented an updated budget plan, which is scheduled to begin July 1. It includes $503,000 in total revenue for expenditures. Some of those sources include motor vehicle taxes, collection fees and sales tax.

Some of the funding will go towards public buildings ($39,000), streets and highways ($87,238), the governing body ($9,700), administration ($111,100), elections ($4,500), community events ($2,011), recreation ($18,000) and legal needs ($5,000).

For police operations and start-up costs, $104,050 is recommended for needs such as equipment, vehicle maintenance, uniforms and expenses related to salaries for the chief and auxiliary officers. Garland operated a police department until June 30, 2008, but ended because of financial issues. Law enforcement duties were later turned over to the Sampson sheriff. Garland ended the contract in 2016 after the department requested more funding. The amount was $113,000.

In previous budget sessions, $11,000 was set aside for the Garland Volunteer Fire Department. But that’s been eliminated following a request from the organization. Previously the department asked the town for $25,000 for the new fiscal year, set to begin July 1. Legal councils from the town and fire departments have been involved in the process. There’s a possibility that the town will donate funds to the department if they show proof of being a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which allows for federal tax exemption.

With $17,500 in contingency funds, Cashwell noted that the money could be used for emergencies, donations, streets or safety.

“That’s money that can be used wherever it’s needed during the year,” Cashwell said.

The next largest chunk of money of the budget is the water-sewer fund, set at $297,000 with no contingency funds. Some of the needs are for equipment and other professional services for the system. It also includes $30,000 for the well rehabilitation project.

Salaries went up to $72,500 — an increase of $11,000. This created the debate among the commissioners. In addition to paying services from Envirolink, the town is expected to pay $142,500, not including benefit totals. This is greater than 50 percent of the total budget.

Cashwell presented an analysis of the current budget, which is $279,000. But the actual received is $286,950. She also pointed out that deleting the fund balance and well rehab project would leave a contingency amount of $15,000.

“We have absolutely no money for contingency, whatsoever,” Cashwell said.

With the budget, Cashwell said the town is dependent on county water usage scenario. For the proposed budget, it’s $24,000 (a decrease from the 2015-2016 amount of $29,626).

“We’re already down $4,000 and some,” she said. “If you took that $24,000 out the scenario, it would not be pretty.”

The analysis presented by Cashwell showed concern regarding the totals and the fund balance.

“If fund balance has to be used to maintain budgets annually, you’re living off your savings,” Cashwell said.

Commissioner Judy Smith agreed and questioned why the budget is so slim, compared to last year.

“I’m worried that it’s cutting it close,” she said.

Cashwell reiterated the salary issue involving Envirolink and compared it to having four employees.

“But you got two on the ground,” she said.

The commission is scheduled to approve and finalize their budget at another meeting in June.

“Nothing is set in stone yet,” Murphy said during discussions.

Employee, salary dispute

Commissioners unanimously approved to hire a new public works/maintenance employee. But the decision came with a lot of concerns because of an increase in the salary, set at $18 per hour. It was previously $13.

Commissioner Judy Smith and Mayor Winifred Murphy thought the amount was too high, especially with the selected person not having certain certifications. Judy made a suggestion of $16 and possibly increasing in the future after passing tests.

“We are spending tax payers dollars and just like with our own budgets at home, we need to be careful with that money,” Judy said.

She later stated that the pay would be adequate if funding if all the credentials are met in the future.

Judy and Murphy was also concerned about the candidates family ties to Commissioners Ralph Smith and S.J. Smith.

“How are you really going to let somebody go,” Judy said. “There’s a conflict of interest already.”

S.J. said it’s not the first time kin have been hired by the town before.

Ralph made a motion, seconded by Mayor Pro-Tem Haywood Johnson, with a condition that all certifications are met in two years. If not, the employee will be terminated. Judy said she would feel better if a raise was not given during that time period, but this was not included in the motion.

An announcement for the vacancy was recently sent to several media outlets and calls for certifications. Some of them include mosquito spraying and water-wastewater credentials.

“The notices just went out today,” Murphy said.

Johnson and others noted that others have been asked about working for the town. But Murphy questioned if the situation was fair to increase the payment.

“I really do or I wouldn’t have made the motion,” Ralph said.

Again, also brought up the family issues and mentioned tax payers’ money. When it came to tax money, Ralph brought up another matter regarding a new police chief receiving $45,000 — after the town tried to hire someone at $38,000.

With a slim water-sewer budget, Murphy also expressed her concern about the increase in the salary. She noted that the increase is about $10,000. She made a suggestion to begin at a lower salary and raise it in the future.

During the disagreement that came with frustrations, Ralph said he would withdraw his motion if anyone in the room could get in a ditch and fix a problem. He also mentioned that he’s been busy picking up the slack.

S.J. questioned why the salary concerns was not addressed during earlier meetings. Murphy responded by bringing up the budget matter, calling for negotiations.

“It’s just a matter of trying to negotiate and be at peace with one another, instead of getting upset with one another because we have a difference of opinion,” Murphy said.

Garland Board of Commissioners review documents during a Thursday meeting. Board of Commissioners review documents during a Thursday meeting.

By Chase Jordan