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Commissioners move ahead with next year’s budget

County Commissioner Carl Robinson looks over plans for the renovation of the hospital on Gamble Drive during a tour of the facility in April. The county’s new budget includes a plan to move the majority of county offices to the hospital site.

County Commissioner Carl Robinson looks over plans for the renovation of the hospital on Gamble Drive during a tour of the facility in April. The county’s new budget includes a plan to move the majority of county offices to the hospital site.

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

After additional discussion at a meeting Monday night meeting, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the Fiscal Year 2014-2015 County Budget, with commissioners Carroll Mitchem and James Klein in opposition.
The final decision was made during an impromptu budget workshop held after the board’s scheduled meeting.
During their scheduled meeting, the initial motion to approve the budget failed 3-2, with commissioners Cecelia Martin, Mitchem and Klein in opposition. For Martin and Mitchem, the budget needed further clarification and additional information provided before they could consider approving the budget.
“I’m a little bit reluctant to vote for this budget based on the fact that the information I’ve tried to receive and have received is still not adequate enough to me as far as the landfill and Public Works changes,” Mitchem said. “I have yet to receive a fee schedule that outlines who does and who doesn’t pay at the landfill…it seems to me that so far, nobody can produce this, and that makes me a little reluctant to pass something that I still have no records to.”
The budget includes a provision that companies that pick up household waste from county homes will no longer dump for free, and will have to pay $38 per load at the landfill. Convenience sites will also no longer accept large loads of debris, and the price for dumping larger loads at the landfill is increasing by $2, from $28 to $30.
Mitchem also said he had yet to receive an explanation as to why the commissioners are unable to pay for the Lincoln County Schools’ water and sewage fees.
“I thought that would be some additional revenue that the school system would have…that could be used for other things for the school system,” he said. “I never got a real clear answer on that.”
For Klein, his disapproval of the budget was based on what he referred to as a series of concerning trends.
“There’s no single item that prompted me to vote against the budget; it’s a series of things that either the trend is, to me, alarming or some issues that I had with the majority, which I understand but do not believe are in the best interests of the taxpayer,” he said. “In terms of the expense side of our budget, there are a number of departments whose dependence on taxpayer money has increased over the last several years — some at an alarming rate. And while that is not terribly surprising, it’s disappointing that we don’t have the plan to stop that from increasing or to reverse the trend in any of those departments…we have one forthcoming, but that will be after this decision is made.”
The decision to move forward this fiscal year with relocating the majority of county government offices to the Old Hospital on Gamble Drive also plays a significant role in Klein’s disapproval.
“With respect to the Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP, I think you all know I voted against the hospital renovation,” he said. “And while I think it’s inevitable that the county offices will end up there, and I don’t have a problem with that, we don’t have an impetus from any outside agency to tell us that we need to do it this coming year. Particularly due to the fact that the CIP this year is receiving no money from the General Fund, and that’s the first time that’s happened since I have been a commissioner of now nearly eight years…we’ve signed up for an $18 million debt, which I find to be burdensome for future commissions and for the taxpayers at some point in the future, and that is unfortunate. It may have been better served for that decision to be moved to the next commission of which there will be two new members and let them debate that in earnest and in depth.”
Following the meeting, county commissioners took a brief recess before regrouping for another budget workshop session. Prior to Monday night’s session, county commissioners met May 23 and June 6 for eight- and five-hour-long budget workshops. County Manager Tracy Jackson, Assistant County Manager Martha Lide, County Finance Director Deanna Rios and Public Works Director Don Chamblee also attended to clarify concerns from the commissioners.
After a brief 30 minute meeting, Martin made a motion to approve the budget as written, with the understanding that the questions the commissioners presented to the county manager Monday night, as well as the information requested, will be supplied to the board. County commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the budget, with Mitchem and Klein in opposition.
Commissioners also held a contentious discussion regarding the current status of city and county contract proposals. At their June 6 budget workshop, Commissioner Alex Patton informed board members of the City Council’s response to the county’s most recently proposed water contract. According to Patton, the City Council has made a “final offer” to sell the county water at a rate of $1.15 per one thousand gallons. He said that in the correspondence with the city, no mention was made of the other contract proposals involved 911 Emergency Communication and Animal Control Services.
“We can’t ask county residents to subsidize the city,” he said.
According to Patton, the discussion of a city and county water sales agreement has been ongoing for the past two years, after the most recent agreement between the two entities expired. Since then, Chamblee said the county has utilized city water on an as-needed basis.
Carl Robinson agreed with Patton, adding that the county had other options for water contracts that would allow the board members to stay loyal to their citizens. Over the course of the water sales discussion, Patton said Catawba County, Cleveland County and Maiden had expressed interest in selling water to the county.
Mitchem expressed the most concern for signing a water contract as soon as possible.
“If in the past we’ve needed to buy water from the city, what would we do now if they say ‘no’?” he said. “I don’t want us to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Mitchem added that by having city residents pay more for 911 and Animal Control Services, double taxation would occur.
“People in Lincolnton pay county taxes,” he said. “They pay the same county tax rate I pay. They should get the same county services…I don’t agree that we should penalize them for living in the city of Lincolnton.”
While Jackson expressed disappointment with the city’s decision, he urged the board to proceed with caution.
“As county employees, we are as, or more, disappointed with the way things turned out,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll get a whole lot better water deal. This seems to be a stumbling block for the city with Animal Control and 911 Services. It may be worth taking that one (the water contract proposal) and considering it separately.”
Patton concluded the discussion by requesting Jackson to look into other options for purchasing water for the county and report back to the board at the next meeting on July 14.
The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a conditional-use permit request to construct and operate an outdoor paintball facility. According to applicant John Kirk Bailey, Lake Norman Paintball would offer local residents an exhilarating paintball experience in a safe and family-friendly environment. The proposed 30-acre site is located on the east side of Old Plank Road at Mariposa Road in the Catawba Springs Township.
At a June 2 meeting, the Lincoln County Planning Board voted 7-0 to recommend approval if the following four conditions were met: a tree/ vegetation buffer shall be left between the paintball areas and the road, no clear cutting of trees shall be permitted, except where the paintball areas are located, a more detailed site plan shall be submitted as part of a building permit application and no parking shall be allowed in the road right of way.
The Boys and Girls Club presentation scheduled to be presented by Dr. Jermeliah Martin was postponed. During the meeting, Patton stated that organization was not fully prepared to present Monday night.

Image courtesy of Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News

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