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City cuts high school officer in split vote

Mayor calls move bad idea, city manager says city is mostly  reimbursed for position; council also leans toward airport pullout

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

A school resource officer will not be on Lincolnton’s list of budgeted positions for the next fiscal year following a split vote by the Lincolnton City Council during its 2012-2013 budget work session Monday night.
The decision came with a 3-1 vote, with council member Devin Rhyne in opposition and Mayor John Gilleland speaking against removing the officer from Lincolnton High School.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Gilleland said.
Council member Larry Mac Hovis brought the topic up toward the end of the meeting, saying he didn’t think the position was the city’s responsibility and that citizens of Lincolnton already pay county taxes for it.
Council member Carroll Heavner agreed, adding that it was something the county or the Lincoln County Board of Education should fund. While council member Dr. John “Les” Cloninger said he believed there must be an officer at the high school, he was likewise adamant that it was not up to the city to provide the funding.
City Manager Jeff Emory emphasized to the council members that the city is being reimbursed for the time the officer spends in the school and that there is money in the budget to pay for it.
The City Council previously approved the position in October after a 3-2 vote, with Heavner and Hovis opposed and Gilleland having broken the tie in favor of the motion.
As a result of that earlier decision, the school, with money received from the state, is paying for 10 months of the officer’s salary and benefits, while the city will foot the bill for the two months the school will be on summer vacation, in the amount of $13,500, during the current fiscal year.
Rhyne spoke in favor of the position, noting that the benefit it provides to the city “far outweighs” the cost.
“It’s a small price to pay,” he added.
Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan was present at the meeting and, when asked for his opinion, told council members that having an officer in the school allowed his department to better respond to emergencies there, when needed.
He told the Times-News Tuesday that the resource officer will stay in position through the end of the school year and will then revert back to a patrol slot position.
Airport pullout?
Also during Monday’s work session, council members again discussed funding for the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport and whether to provide money for matching grants that would allow for the installation of a new glide-slope system and a runway extension.
“It’s a big deal to industries looking to locate here,” Gilleland said of the planned renovations.
Nonetheless, council members seemed to agree that the city doesn’t reap enough benefits for what it is paying and questioned why they hadn’t seen the submitted paperwork for the proposed grants.
“We’re not controlling spending our money,” Rhyne said.
Representatives from the Airport Authority stressed that they were asking the city and county to provide $150,000 each in order to get the $3 million grant for the project and that they didn’t expect to get another opportunity like it again.
Though no action was taken, Gilleland ultimately recommended that Emory, Airport Manager Joe Tate, Lincolnton Finance Director Georgetta Williams and engineers on the project get together to clarify the details before the budget is voted upon at the City Council’s June 7 regular meeting.
Other issues
Council members also discussed during the work session revising the city’s recycling program to be done in-house by city employees instead of through contract work. The city would offer curbside pickup every two weeks and provide larger containers to citizens through grant money.
They also touched on the need to reduce the amount of overtime pay given to city employees for the next fiscal year.
According to a memo from Williams to Emory, the amount of overtime pay for the last fiscal year was $358,520, which represented 5.7 percent of the total gross payroll.
For the current fiscal year, the overtime pay through April was $308,573, or 5.9 percent of the total gross payroll.
Among other topics of discussion Monday night were proposed changes to the city’s Wellness Plan, adjustments to the water and sewer rates, the purchase of a SwapLoader truck for the Public Works and Utilities Department, the purchase of a weather siren to warn against tornadoes and the addition of a purchasing-agent position.

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