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Council hears from angry citizens

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

The Lincolnton City Council heard from some angry and persistent citizens during public comments at Thursday evening’s meeting.
Despite voting to cut the newly imposed garbage fee in half during their July meeting, council members again heard complaints regarding the $5-a-month charge for trash pickup.
Dr. Bill Hitt, who has spoken out strongly against the fee at the last few meetings, this time threatened a recall election to remove council members he deemed not responsive to the wishes of Lincolnton residents.
He has previously vowed that he would do everything in his power to make sure that any council member who voted in favor of the charge not be elected again.
Councilman Devin Rhyne, who was against the charge from the start, cast the lone vote in opposition to it, even once reduced.
Councilman Larry Mac Hovis, who was back Thursday night after having been absent from the last several meetings for health issues, did not participate in the vote, while Councilman Carroll Heavner is not seeking re-election in the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, Councilman Dr. John “Les” Cloninger won’t be up for re-election until 2015.
Despite his recent absence, Hovis made clear his feelings about the fee after he and Hitt went back and forth in a somewhat heated exchange regarding the reasoning behind the charge.
Hitt, who said he’s lived in Lincolnton for 19 years and never attended a City Council meeting until the trash-pickup fee was introduced, noted that people have repeatedly thanked him for leading the charge against the fee.
“I think this is wrong,” he said of the fee, adding that he wasn’t concerned with its amount.
Instead, he said, it’s the fact that a fee has been imposed for a “basic service” that bothers him, especially when it could be raised in the future.
He likewise reiterated his suggestions for cutting back on expenditures to eliminate the necessity of the fee by reforming the Christmas bonuses and dependent health-insurance coverage for city employees, both of which he pointed to as examples of where the city is “so out of line” with the private sector.
Employee retention is important, he added, but it “has to be reasonable.”
The City Council also heard from Dale Punch during public comments, who addressed members regarding Hog Happenin’.
Though he repeated his assertion from past meetings that he is not trying to get rid of the annual event, Punch again expressed his concerns with both the cost of Hog Happenin’ and the crowds it attracts, particularly those fond of the beer garden.
He complained that, after posting questions about the event on the Downtown Development Association’s Facebook page, he had been blocked by Business and Community Development Director Brad Guth.
Punch also specifically called out Cloninger, who he said had received his vote, but he wondered whether the councilman had kept his promise to constituents.
In other City Council action:
Lt. Randy Willis of the Lincolnton Police Department was presented with a resolution of retirement.
A proclamation naming Lincolnton a “Purple Heart City” was unanimously approved by council members.
Council members unanimously approved the renewal of a contract for the lease of property at 530 E. Main St. for the LPD Detectives Division.
Council members unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding for membership in the Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln MPO, as the Lake Norman RPO has been dissolved.
Council members unanimously approved a budget amendment to decrease the city’s general fund by $200,000 in light of their decision at the last meeting to cut the newly imposed garbage fee in half.
Council members recognized the Finance Department for receiving the Government Finance Officer’s Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 23rd-consecutive year. They also recognized the Business and Community Development Department and the DDA for being accredited as a National Main Street Program for 2013.
Council members voted 3-1, with Rhyne opposed, to deny a request to change the by-laws for the Lincolnton Student Advisory Council in order to add a third member for Lincoln Charter School. Hovis said he didn’t think it was fair to the other schools who have also requested additional members in the past.
Council members scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Aug. 15 to discuss contracts with Lincoln County.

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