Magee presents Dobbins Heights budget to council

 Residents ask sheriff about foot patrols, ATVs and animal control

By Kevin Spradlin

DOBBINS HEIGHTS — The proposed budget for the town of Dobbins Heights is 2.6 percent higher than the current fiscal year, but is the second smallest budget since Mayor Antonio Blue took office seven years ago.

Town Clerk Mary Magee

Town Clerk Mary Magee

Town Clerk Mary Magee presented the draft budget to Blue and council members Angeline K. David, Mary Ann Gibson and Tyre’ Holloway during a public hearing Thursday night at Town Hall. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. but a quorum was not established until 6:52 p.m.

That mattered little, as it took only seven minutes for Magee to read through the highlights of the proposed budget that will direct the town’s policies from July 1 to June 30, 2015. Magee said the council is expected to adopt the budget at a special public meeting set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 26.

Of the town’s $320,365 in projected expenses, 42.7 percent — $136,950 — is earmarked for administration. The proposed budget shows $65,800 (20.5 percent) for streets, $31,300 (9.7 percent) for sanitation, $24,413 (7.6 percent) for parks and recreation and $24,000 (7.49 percent) for reimbursing the city of Hamlet for fire protection services and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

The budget reflects nothing for the planned Community Center on Earle Franklin Drive adjacent to the Community Park. Though the project is expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year — and at the groundbreaking in early May Blue said it could open to the public as soon as September — Blue said town officials couldn’t project expenses for the building, including staffing or utilities, until it was ready for occupancy.

* Residents took advantage of Sheriff James Clemmons’ attendance at the meeting to ask about a number of issues. One resident said she recently was approached by a small pack of “vicious” dogs. The woman said she fired a gun at the pack and hit at least one of them, but all of the dogs took off running in another direction.

The woman said she called Animal Control, deputies from which arrived in a timely manner to find the dogs and take them into possession.

Clemmons reminded the 11 town residents who attended the meeting that since the Sheriff’s Office took over animal control duties in the county on Jan. 1, much of the focus of the responsibility has been on education. Outreach to the public, Clemmons said, is important in order to keep residents informed of laws on the books that spell out the obligations of pet owners.

“Some people don’t do their homework before they purchase a puppy,” Clemmons said.

North Carolina has a tether law that, he said, among other things requires enough rope to allow the animal access to food and water. He said in high temperatures, it’s not only humans that need regular access to clean water.

“Dogs need water, too,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons told the audience that Animal Control’s primary goal is not to seize custody of loose animals in the county. Instead, the goal is to find animals’ owners and educate them on their responsibilities. He also said people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands, as deputies as trained to addresses issues “in a lawful manner.”

In the woman’s scenario, Clemmons cautioned, it’s not inconceivable that someone could file a complaint against the woman and someone in her situation could be charged with felony animal cruelty. However, in certain cases where a human life is threatened, “by all means, protect yourself.”

“It’s a misconception that we can come and grab someone’s dog,” Clemmons said.

Officers instead give pet owners a warning on the first occurrence, then a citation on future occurrences which expand animal control officers’ options, which then include taking custody of the animals.

All-terrain vehicles

A number of residents asked Clemmons what deputies could do about teens operating ATVs on town streets. Clemmons responded that the issue is a difficult one, in that by the time a deputy arrives, the ATV and operator are long gone from the scene.

“It’s almost an impossible task to stop” it completely, Clemmons said.

He said that in a small town, it’s imperative that the caller — who can remain anonymous in most situations — determine, if possible, where the ATVs are coming from instead of simply calling in a location in which the ATVs were spotted. If it’s known where the vehicles are housed, a deputy can have a conversation with the parents. It’s possible that in certain circumstances, the ATV could be towed away.

“I need a name,” he said. “Give us a place to pinpoint” and visit.

ATVs, he said, “were not made for the highways and streets of North Carolina.”

Clemmons cited safety as just one issue why ATVs should not be on public roadways, as they are lower to the ground and less visible to motorists.

Foot patrols

One resident suggested to Clemmons that deputies — who all in attendance agreed do patrol Dobbins Heights on a regular basis throughout any given day — get out of their vehicles and conduct foot patrols.

“Done,” Clemmons said.

Reflective address numbers

Clemmons said deputies often have a difficult time responding to Dobbins Heights homes and any place where addresses are not numbered in reflect lettering. He said it’s common for deputies to be delayed in responding to a call for help because the location can’t be found by an address alone.

“Especially if that person is incapacitated, we need to get there as quickly as we can,” Clemmons said.

He suggested an outreach effort by the town to educate residents to update their addresses which visible, reflective numbers. The temporary cost and inconvenience of such an update is minor compared to the long-term impact of a delayed response.

“Trust me, when they need us and we can’t get there, they’re not going to be real pleased with us,” Clemmons said. “Make sure they’re reflective.”

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