The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen on Monday night, June 27, voted to table an endorsement of the fiscal 2022-23 budget ordinance passed by the Local Government Commission on June 22.
Board members said there were several reasons for their decision, including not having enough time to review the final budget before they were asked for the endorsement, saying there were numerical errors within the budget and saying they needed questions answered before they could fully endorse the spending plan.
Interim Town Manager Joe Durham said the information had been given out previously and the budget was approved after the public hearing was held at the last board meeting on June 12.
“The Local Government Commission has already adopted the town’s budget, and they are requesting that you endorse the town budget as submitted,” Durham said.
Durham summarized that the budget did not contain staff furloughs and added a 3% cost-of-living increase for town employees. He also said the budget shows a decrease in the Spring Lake property tax rate from 70 cents per $100 valuation to 65 cents due to the town entering into the county recreation tax district. The additional 5 cents will be reflected in the recreation tax, which will negate the property tax decrease for residents.
Alderman Raul Palacios asked why the board needed to endorse the budget when it has already been adopted.
“The LGC having assumed management authority for the town’s financial affairs. The public hearing was held a few weeks ago and the town staff has been intimately involved in the creation, so they are asking for your endorsement and support,” Durham said.
Palacios identified some line items that he said he could not get to add up, including property tax collection at 98% instead of the 88% of the projections he was calculating.
“This budget has already been adopted by the LGC and this board has no control over what this budget says, but I cannot endorse a budget when the numbers are wrong,” Palacios said.
Alderwoman Sona Cooper said she needed more time to look at the budget. The board received the final budget ordinance Monday morning, and board members said they did not have enough time to review it before being asked to endorse it Monday night.
“My issue is we received the budget this morning and we haven’t had time to review it,” Cooper said.
The board voted to table the budget for a future meeting.
Durham also presented the monthly financial report from May, which showed the general fund in better shape than it has been in recent years.
“We are moving in the right direction showing good budget discipline, and the financial statements reflect that today. This is very good news, but we are still operating in the negative, in the red,” said Durham, adding there is still a need to restore the general fund and the upcoming audit will help give the town a clearer picture of its finances.
Audit Committee report
Palacios also updated the board on the Audit Committee meeting held June 9.
The update included the charges filed against former finance director/accounting technician Gay Tucker. Tucker, who was arrested on June 10, is accused of embezzling more than $500,000 from the town. Palacios said a proof of loss insurance claim has been filed on behalf of the town.
Palacios also updated the board on several other issues the committee outlined to address the findings cited in the March audit released by the State Auditor’s Office. He said:
Segregation of duties has been implemented, including for check signers.
Bank reconciliations are up to date, and the Local Government Commission continues to update the board with monthly financial reports.
The town is working on a policy handbook with a completion date of Jan. 1.
The committee is working on an ethics policy for board members and staff.
The town will work to replace contracted staff. The new budget provides for a 50/50 split of contracted staff and town employees.
The search for a permanent town manager will begin in July.
All credit cards are now being held by the town manager. The credit cards are only disbursed when proper documentation is submitted.
The $9,900 owed as a result of the overpaying of a monthly cell phone stipend has been recovered, and cell phone allowances are no longer provided. This resulted in a $33,000 savings.
Closed session meeting minutes have been completed and will be on a July agenda for approval.
The Audit Committee was formed after the Local Government Commission was critical of the town’s response to issues raised in the audit. The commission said the town’s response to the audit report lacked sufficient detail, did not include target dates for completing items, and did not indicate who would be responsible for corrective actions, among other issues. Mayor Kia Anthony, Palacios and Cooper serve as the members of the Audit Committee.
In other action, the board voted to approve a special-use permit to allow nonprofit activities, a farmer’s market and historic exhibits at the Sandhills Family Heritage Association site at 230 Chapel Hill Road.
The board approved requested conditions in the motion, including gravel parking alongside the paved ADA parking spaces, natural tree line buffering in lieu of fencing, vendors to only be from Harnett and Cumberland counties and the open-air farmer’s market, which opened in 2007, to operate only on Saturdays and Sundays during daylight hours.
The chairwoman of the association’s board, Janet Brower, secretary Debra Clyde and treasurer Priscilla Burton spoke in favor of the project during a public hearing. There was no opposition.
“The next step is to approve the development plan, which will provide more detail than this special-use permit plan,” said David Moon, deputy director of Cumberland County Planning and Inspections.
The Sandhills Family Heritage Association plans to renovate the existing building with the $250,000 allotment from the General Assembly in the last budget.
Mayor Pro Tem Robyn Chadwick, Alderwoman Adrian Thompson and Cooper were all complimentary of the renovation, saying they had grown up in Spring Lake attending events and family reunions there.
Moment of silence
For the second meeting in a row, Anthony called for a moment of silence instead of an invocation.
The board voted in May to reject a prayer policy, which would have allowed the mayor to call for a moment of silence, in favor of continuing to pray during the invocation. The board also agreed to invite guests to pray as a way to connect with local pastors and churches.
At a special meeting on June 21, Alderman Marvin Lackman asked that the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance be said when Anthony skipped that part of the agenda. Anthony called for a moment of silence although Lackman stated Thompson was willing to give the invocation. The board voted to have the prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance at that meeting before going into executive session under the general statute for personnel.
Local lawyer Michael Porter joined the board in that executive session.