2019-20 Budget Negotiations – Round One

May 18, 2019 Off By Jay Hubbard

The Board of Commissioners met at the new Ramseur police department headquarters on Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 6 p.m. for the first round of negotiations on the 2019-20 fiscal budget. It was an interesting meeting in several ways.

For one thing, the typical contempt and discourtesy some members usually direct at their peers  in public was conspicuously absent. These people acted as if they like each other and know how to work together like adults, something we rarely see at better attended meetings. The video below runs about two hours and forty minutes, and covered budget requests from every department that our tax dollars fund.

Mayor Shaw began by pointing out that we currently have a fund balance of 1.5 million dollars in the bank. The proposed budget of just under $745,000, prior to any changes made during the meeting, would leave a little over 50% of the fund balance untouched.

Mayor Shaw expressed his opinion that the proposed budget was too big. I don’t follow that logic, since the amount of revenue the town estimates to receive next year from property taxes alone is projected to be $810,000. Cheapskate thinking like that is not how we improve our town.

Police Chief Lewallen was present to plead his case for personnel raises and funding for new equipment such as ballistic vests and firearms. He made a good case and I was disappointed that none the board members, in particular Commissioner Cox, who represents our police and fire departments on the council, did not fight harder for the chief’s requests. You get what you pay for and we can afford to do better by these folks.

During discussion of fire department funding it was pointed out that we are struggling to find a new fire chief, primarily because we aren’t offering enough compensation. While it’s true that Ramseur is not comparable to cities like Greensboro, or even Asheboro, the continual underfunding of all our departments keeps this town on the brink of disaster in many ways, not the least of which is fire protection and emergency management.

One positive change was noted when Commissioner Caudle began making her budget requests for parks and recreation. In the past, street lighting (not to be confused with stadium/field lighting) at Leonard Park and the Pell Reservoir (Ramseur Lake) have been billed to the parks and recreation department budget. This amounts to several thousand dollars each year that would be better spent improving our parks and recreation programs and facilities. Commissioner Caudle requested that those expenses be moved to our streets department since those lights are not used for recreational activities. The change was made.

Money was also allocated to replace the roof on our library building, which is long overdue. I recently read an article at the Courier-Tribune that mentioned  discussions in Liberty about turning over operation of their library to the county. I think this is a discussion worth having in Ramseur as well since we have a countywide library system.

According to the article that change would potentially save the town of Liberty about $140,000 annually. Hopefully our board members will follow that discussion and consider turning over operation of Ramseur’s library to the county as well. It seems like a logical evolution to this correspondent.

Commissioner Smith proposed allocating approximately $3,900 for a new vinyl split rail fence in the cemetery to better separate the memorial park from the perpetual yard sale – which violates town ordinances – that goes on just south of the cemetery entrance on Coleridge Road.

I hope that in the future something similar will be considered between the cemetery and the adjacent residential property on Church Street, if for no other reason than to keep people from pulling off the access road and creating deep ruts like those created last winter along that boundary.

While we’re talking about the cemetery, later in the meeting during a discussion about removal of the broken aerators at the reservoir, Commissioner Smith stated that he is a “certified electrician” when he volunteered to help with the removal. My immediate question upon hearing those words was why did he hire that guy from Kings Mountain last year to do the electrical work in the cemetery if he’s a certified electrician?

By the way, the lights around the flagpole at Sunset Knoll stopped working months ago and the lights at the West Ridge Street entrance are still non-functional. Also, was I the only one who heard Mr. Cheek say that the sidewalk on West Ridge Street would be repaired several months ago in a meeting? It’s still full of gravel and unrepaired. Perhaps Commissioner Cheek has too much on his plate.

There were several other details of note that I’m forgetting just now, and since this is a volunteer effort I’m not inclined to watch the entire video again. I already sat through this meeting once; that was enough.

I would encourage all citizens to watch the video and make plans to attend the next budget workshop, which is scheduled for Thursday, 23 May 2019, at 6pm in the new Ramseur police department headquarters. You might even get a chance to speak your mind, but don’t count on it.

This link will download the draft budget that the commissioners were working from at the meeting. It does not reflect changes made during the meeting, but will be helpful in following along when you watch the meeting. A more detailed document set containing departmental spending requests was also in use during the meeting, but I do not have a copy of that package.