Lincolnton’s City Council voted unanimously to approve their 2014-2015 Fiscal Year Budget at their meeting Thursday night.
Prior to the vote, council members held a public hearing to allow citizens the opportunity have their say about the budget.
Resident Nancy Stokes was the first to address the council, and expressed her concerns regarding the decision to add a provision to the city’s current insurance policy which eliminates city-sponsored coverage for spouses currently covered by insurance at another employer.
“The issue with reducing the employee health insurance by eliminating spousal insurance coverage is unfair to long-term employees,” Stokes said. “These employees have worked for less than market wages for many years because the health benefits have somewhat equalized their pay with competitive jobs in the private sector. These people have been loyal to the city during storm damage, working long hours to restore power, water and other services that our citizens expect. To take away this is a violation of the work conditions in which they were hired. These people work hard, and they are on call 24-7 to serve and protect the citizens of Lincolnton. Please rethink this part of the budget.”
Stokes also spoke on the proposed contracts with the county for 911 and animal control services.
“I pay taxes to Lincoln County, and I pay taxes to the city of Lincolnton,” she said. “My county taxes support the operation of the 911 organization and to the animal control organization. How can you justify requiring me to pay for these services again through my city taxes? This is double taxation by anyone’s definition.”
Resident Tom Hawk echoed Stokes’ comments about the contracts.
“This is simply a mutual unwritten understanding,” he said. “Why is the county in such a panic to get the city to sign a binding long-term contract for these services?”
At the start of the meeting, City Council member Dr. Martin Eaddy said that if the council received a significant amount of negative feedback, a decision would not have to be made that night. When Mayor John Gilleland suggested the council schedule another budget meeting to further discuss the budget, council member Devin Rhyne was the first to object.
“I’ve heard the concerns, but my concern is that I don’t see how we have any other options right now, short of a tax increase,” Rhyne said. “If we’re going to meet again, what could we possibly do to change the insurance policy in the next two weeks without delaying the budget?”
Council member Les Cloninger said that during one of the budget sessions, he suggested a tax increase as opposed to eliminating spousal insurance coverage. In reality, he said, even a tax increase would not be able to cover the costs of providing spousal coverage.
“We have to cut expenses if there’s not going to be any type of additional revenue,” City Manager Jeff Emory said.
Council member Larry Mac Hovis expressed his empathy for the city employees affected, but felt the city essentially had its hands tied.
“I really felt sorry for the city employees, but we’ve got problems, and unless we raise taxes, which we don’t want to do, this has to happen,” he said.
Emory updated the council regarding the ongoing talks with county to finalize contracts for water, 911 services and animal control services. At this point, the county said the city would be responsible for collecting 911 and animal control fees from city residents.
Cloninger responded by offering the county one final offer regarding water sales, ignoring the county’s request for emergency and animal control services. In his motion, he said that water should be sold at $1.15 per 1,000 gallons.
“This fire thing is probably the most ridiculous thing you could ever hear,” Hovis said.
He said the city had been discussing these contracts for over a year. Council members voted to unanimously approve Cloninger’s motion.
The Lincolnton Planning Department’s senior administrator for support services, Patricia Finster, was honored on her upcoming retirement at the meeting. While she was unable to attend the meeting, her son, Lee, accepted the award on her behalf. Finster began her work with the city in 1996. She will officially retire on July 1.
Nathan Eurey, a staff member with the recreation department, was honored for his lifesaving actions during a recent soccer match at Highland Drive Park. According to Gilleland, Eurey performed CPR last month on a local man, saving his life.
Police officer Jimmy Barlowe received a Departmental Life Saving Medal, presented by Chief of Police Rodney Jordan. According Jordan, Barlowe received a call on his radio for a dispatch on Main Street for a disturbance. However, that was not the location he drove to.
“Where Jimmy was dispatched at the communication center was not where Jimmy drove to,” Jordan said. “When Barlowe arrived on scene at the disturbance, people were yelling ‘She’s dead! She’s dying!’, and there was a young lady slumped over in car, nonresponsive…he realized there was no way he could do CPR in the car, so he took her out of the car and placed her on a grassy area, where he performed CPR. What you’ve got to realize is that EMS personnel that were dispatched to the scene went to the correct address, which ended up being the wrong location…On March 17, Jimmy was our shining star for the department.”
Lincolnton’s City Council is scheduled to hold their next meeting July 10 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.