Hamlet budget requests reflect a wish list of items

Council wants across-the-board pay increase for employees, new fire truck, $50K for Opera House

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

HAMLET — Hamlet Mayor Bill Bayless and City Council members discussed the upcoming Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget Thursday night during a public work session.

As the Rolling Stones song indicated, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Hamlet

Said Bayless: Where do we need to start? Looks like we’re going to have to cut quite a bit from the proposals to get within the guidelines.”

Some city departments are going to find out they can’t get what they need, either — forcing elected officials to prioritize needs identified in individual departmental requests.

No to the new truck for the Parks and Recreation Department. “Maybe” to the new boom truck for the Public Works. But yes to a new fire truck to replace one that’s nearly 40 years old. Yes to possibly hiring a part-time police officer to protect the city’s water source. Yes to $50,000 for the renovation of the Opera House. Yes to new computers for the police department.

Hamlet Fire Chief David Knight made the case for new SCBA bottles for $9,600 and another $11,000 for deck gun risers. Trucks, he said, are much more flexible in utilization with them than without.

“I don’t think there’s any question we’ve got to give them what they absolutely need,” said Councilman Eddie Martin. “If my house were on fire …”

Finance Officer Jill Dickens said the city is currently paying $100,000 year in debt service payments that will be freed up by the end of the fiscal year. However, that freed up money is already used elsewhere in the proposed budget.

“In this current proposed budget, there’s not any extra money,” Dickens said. “That’s already been accounted for.”

Councilman Jesse McQueen said while there could be some higher expenses this year, some of those expenses are justified down the road.

“This council needs to be proactive in looking for the future,” McQueen said. “If we can make commitments for quality of life like we just made” — referring to $50,000 council members promised out of a future budget for the Opera House renovation — “we’re going to have to start making commitments for essentials. If we keep putting it off, we’re going to have 50-year-old fire trucks with 700,000 miles. Our people do a good job, and they do a good job with junk.”

Councilman Pat Preslar suggested purchasing a new or used truck with a low-interest note.

“We get really good rates,” Preslar said.

Knight told council members he’s not opposed to a used truck. He said most trucks are used on the front line for 10 years, put in reserve for another 10 years then gotten rid of.

“Some people can afford to get rid of them quicker than that,” Knight said.

In his department’s case, however, Tanker 3 is 42 years old and has some 450,000 miles on its odometer.

Police Chief Amery Griffin made his case for multiple new cruisers, as well as 10 new computers throughout the police department headquarters. The oldest car in the department is from 2004, Griffin said, and even the maintenance for the vehicles purchased in 2007 “is getting kind of high.”

Griffin also requested funds for a LiveScan fingerprint machine, but Griffin realized anything is just a request. Preslar asked Griffin if he could get by with only two new cars.

Said Griffin: “I can get by with anything you give me.”

As for the computers — the needs include  one for each office, two in dispatch and two in the K-9/traffic unit.

“All the computers we have in operation we either given to us … that’s how we’ve gotten by,” Griffin said of donations from Richmond Community College’s annual surplus sale.

Downtown Coordinator Miranda Chavis persuaded council members to commit $50,000 out of a future budget for the restoration of the Opera House. The building, constructed in 1914, is next on Chavis’ radar to bring people to downtown Hamlet.

Councilman Tony Clewis said the $50,000 promise could be a tool Chavis could use to help attract private donations and grants. Otherwise, he said, outsiders could ask, “If we’re not interested in it, why should anybody else be interested in it?”

Chavis’ request was for a $100,000.

The council authorized Chavis to begin soliciting candidates to form a steering committee to head the project. McQueen, though supportive of the project, offered words of caution.

“I’m willing to commit to work on that project — but the taxpayers have put a lot of money towards quality of life projects,” McQueen said. “I think, at some point, we need to try to find alternate funding for some of these things that’s not bringing in a lot of money. That land could be huge – a windfall – the possibilites could be endless, and earmark every dime of it to the Opera House.”

Chavis said she estimated the cost to be a “seven-figure project.”

 

 

 

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