Local News

Now what? A conversation with Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony

17As a two-tour combat veteran, Kia Anthony says the one adage that reverberated throughout her seven-year military career was: “If not you, then who?”

Anthony never wanted to be a mayor, much less a politician. Seeing what was happening in her adopted town and her desire to be a public servant pushed her to seek political office. She prayed about it and was given the go-ahead, she said. Also, as Anthony explains it, her mother – who often fed and clothed the less fortunate – instilled in her the DNA of public service.

The Flint, Michigan native joined the Army in 1999, right out of high school. First, the Army sent her to Korea, then to Fort Bragg’s 44th Medical Brigade. Despite her multiple deployments and temporary assignments to other places, Fort Bragg and Spring Lake became her home.

She knew little about the details of Spring Lake’s financial woes before running for town mayor in 2021.

“I knew to the extent citizens were allowed to know,” she said. “And that was one of the reasons I felt I needed to run.”

Although a newcomer to Spring Lake politics, she ran against two strong incumbents: former Alderwomen Fredericka Southerland and Jackie Jackson. Anthony said she didn’t have to do too much convincing because the voters were ready for a change.

Anthony says she never directly ran against Southerland and Jackson; instead, she ran against the status quo, and her campaign message promised a “new standard” in town government. She placed campaign signs both in and outside Spring Lake town limits to ensure name recognition.
Anthony officially became a Spring Lake resident in 2004.

“I bought my house here.”

She has seen the town’s decline, in part because citizens played a minimal role in the town’s governance.
Anthony said she has multiple goals that could help revive Spring Lake’s economic vibrancy.

“The main thing is to tackle our finances. We’ve made extreme headway in getting our finances in order. The budget is actually looking good,” Anthony said.

Anthony chairs the Town’s Audit Committee, which is tasked with triaging the recommendations from the 2021 State Auditor’s investigation into the town’s finances. Other members of the committee include Alderwoman Sonja Cooper and Alderman Raul Palacios. Staff members on the committee include Interim Town Manager Joe Durham and a Town Finance Department employee. Anthony may add a citizen as an ad hoc member.

The meetings are open to the public, she said.
Anthony said other goals include relating to younger citizens. Spring Lake’s median age is 24.9, and Anthony believes it necessary to reach that demographic stratum through citizen engagement.

She also listed business infusion, calling Spring Lake a “diamond in the rough” that is perfectly positioned.
Another goal for Anthony is getting Spring Lake’s infrastructure up to acceptable standards.

“We can’t bring in a movie theater, or a bowling alley, or even another housing development other than the two we have coming in right now. Our water and sewage can’t sustain that kind of capacity.”
Recently, the state Local Government Commission, which currently oversees the town’s finances, approved the town’s application for a grant to rebuild its water/sewer infrastructure.

“Once we do that, we can think about revitalizing our main street,” she said.
Before thinking about becoming mayor, Anthony said she worked to re-establish the Town’s Chamber of Commerce. She calls that project “critical in injecting life into the business community.”
The departure of Pope Air Force Base and the undertaking of a North Carolina Department of Transportation bridge construction to facilitate I-295 crippled downtown Spring Lake.

“We lost almost 40 businesses during the creation of that bridge. This also divided Spring Lake traffic. It devastated us here in Spring Lake,” she said.
The town also lacks affordable housing. Anthony explained that a current housing development on Odell Road consisting of 122 new 2023-model mobile homes is a start.

As one of three military veterans on the board, Anthony believes Spring Lake lacks proper military engagement. “That is huge for us here in Spring Lake. We are very connected to the military. We have a high veteran population, and we want to make sure they are serviced, and not only veterans but also active duty military and their families,” she said. “We don’t connect with Fort Bragg as we should even though Spring Lake is the gateway to Fort Bragg. We should be proud of that, and we should capitalize on that,” she said.

Finally, Spring Lake needs to work on its appearance, she said. The town has an active Appearance Committee chaired by Southerland.

“We are all working diligently cleaning up Spring Lake. It’s a priority of all of the board members,” she said.

Spring Lake: A town in trouble

16The Town of Spring Lake is no stranger to ineptness or corruption when it comes to town governance.

From losing control of its police department to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office because of corruption to the most recent state takeover of the town’s finances, the Town of Spring Lake has, over the years, tainted its reputation.

In its most recent debacle, the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor (OSA) deemed the town incapable of handling its finances and put its financial affairs under the Local Government Commission. Additionally, a state audit published in March determined that Spring Lake officials misused taxpayer dollars, including more than $430,000 for personal use by the town’s former accounting technician. The audit further alleges that the town did not adequately inventory vehicles, misused procurement cards and that minutes of public meetings were missing.

The audit found that the town’s finance director failed to supervise and review the accounting technician’s actions, especially deposits into her account at the Fort Bragg Mutual Credit Union.

The March audit was not the first time Spring Lake came under state fiscal scrutiny. A 2016 OSA audit found similar infractions. The OSA launched that investigation after receiving complaints of misappropriation of money via its hotline. The audit identified 63 Town employee positions and three aldermen who violated town policy using procurement cards. The audit did not name the individuals.

It also determined that from July 2010 through March 2015, the town board and employees spent at least $122,434 on 1,448 purchases unrelated to town business. And the town under-billed a commercial real estate company by $90,930 because town employees misread water meters. After discovering the mistake, the then-unnamed town manager believed it unfair to bill the real estate company for the remaining water usage, according to the report.

The reasons for Spring Lake’s continuing financial mishaps can be attributed to several reasons, according to a former long-time Alderwoman Fredricka Southerland. For years, Southerland was on the losing end of a 3-2 vote regarding town business she considered questionable.

“I believed in honesty and transparency. The town needed to quit sweeping things under the rug,” she said. Retired from the banking and financial industry, Southerland often questioned the town’s fiscal decisions. She blames much of the town’s financial woes on unqualified leadership. Leadership unwilling or unable to learn about their fiscal responsibilities. In one set of town meeting minutes, Southerland is on record pleading with her fellow board members to educate themselves about issues.
She also suggests the town’s citizens own part of the blame. Despite having one of the highest municipal tax rates and a $13 million budget, the town of some 12,000 often voted for personalities rather than qualified candidates.

“I tried my best to educate them. Some didn’t realize how much (taxes) they were paying. I wanted them to come out to meetings and hold the board accountable,” she said.

In this latest financial mishap, the town’s organizational makeup may have played a damaging role. For example, although the town operates under a council-manager form of government where the town manager is the chief administrative officer, well versed in the responsibilities of all aspects of the town’s daily activities, Spring Lake had its finance director and thus financial operations reporting to the board and not the town manager.

The often-abrupt dismissal of key town personnel also played a role. In this instance, it led to the appointment of a non-qualified accounting technician to the finance director role. This individual is alleged to have embezzled town funds; an issue brought to light in the latest audit.

The LGC has a legal obligation to ensure local governments’ finances are well managed. Spring Lake joins the towns of Kingstown, Robersonville, Pikeville, Eureka and East Laurinburg under the LGC’s financial control. Under state law, the LCG has far-reaching powers, and last year voted to revoke East Laurinburg’s municipal charter because it couldn’t get its finances in order. The town will no longer exist after June.
Spring Lake’s ongoing financial woes are not new. The LGC communicated with Spring Lake numerous times during the past four years, raising concerns about the town’s failure to follow state law when administering public money.

In its latest actions, the LGC on May 2 intervened to resolve issues surrounding a $1 million loan the town accepted from South River Electric Membership Corporation. The problem: Spring Lake did not have the authority to accept the loan since its finances and ability to repay any loan were under state jurisdiction. The town never sought LGC approval of the loan.

So, the LGC directed its staff on May 3 to begin re-negotiating with South River EMC terms for the town to pay off the loan. South River EMC loaned the $1 million to Spring Lake to build a fire station, which the town started building before the money was in place. The original 10-year term was deferred for two years, followed by eight annual payments of $125,000.
Since Spring Lake never asked the LGC to approve the loan, under state law, the loan and its agreements are not valid and thus not enforceable by the lender. However, the LGC wants to hold South River EMC harmless and opted for Spring Lake to repay the loan. The LGC’s counteroffer is a 20-year payback period with a two-year payment deferral. A 20-year payback period would be less stressful to the cash-strapped town.
According to the LGC, once the terms are final, its staff will file an application for financing approval – required by law – and hold public hearings before staff brings the proposal back to the LGC for a vote.

Spring Lake, for years, knew its financial operations were suspect. The latest warnings included:
• January 3, 2020, Sharon G. Edmundson, LGC’s Fiscal Management director, sent a letter to Mayor Larry Dobbins warning him that for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the town failed to submit its annual audits.
• April 23, 2020, LGC staff sent a letter to Spring Lake’s Board of Aldermen and town administration stating that the town failed to comply with state law by not having fiscal year audits conducted soon after adopting a budget. Audits are due October 31 following June 30 budget adoptions.
• June 2, 2020, the LGC issued a resolution warning Spring Lake regarding its failure to comply with state laws to submit fiscal year audits. According to the resolution, the town’s audits had been at least two months late for the past five years. The 2018 audit was 16 months late.
• June 23, 2021, citing a budget deficit and lack of fiscal controls, the LGC again warns Spring Lake of a possible takeover of the town’s finances. The LGC held an emergency meeting on June 22 and voted unanimously to send a warning to Spring Lake due to concerns over long-standing fiscal irregularities and an investigation into missing money.
• July 26, 2021, The LGC voted to take complete control of Spring Lake’s finances if the Board of Aldermen impedes the Office of State Auditor investigation into “questionable” financial activities if the board withholds information from the commission.
• October 5, 2021, after being under investigation by OSA for several months, the LGC voted to finally take over Spring Lake’s finances. The LGC cited concerns the town may default on November debt service payments totaling $221,385. The action came two months after the July warning.
• March 24, 2022, LGC appoints deputy finance officers in the wake of staff turnover.
• April 6, 2022, The LGC issues a letter to Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony and the Board “expressing deep concern over possible lack of compliance with state laws and reluctance to work cooperatively with commission staff.”

Last month, the town hired Joe Durham as interim town manager. For the past eight years, Durham has operated an executive coaching and recruitment service for local governments. Before that, Durham spent years in local government leadership roles, including deputy manager of Wake County.
Spring Lake hired Durham to recruit a town manager after the termination of its last manager, Daniel Geralds. Durham said recruitment was looking bleak. “People were staying in place,” he said.
So, Durham put recruitment on hold and agreed to step in as the interim town manager until October. His goal, said Durham, is to get the town back on its feet and help the town regain its credibility regarding administering its finances.

“The town is in the process of updating many policies relating to financial management. This will represent a comprehensive rewrite and will be conducted over many months, with items going to the board on a regular basis. The existing policy on credit cards is no town employee has a credit card in his /her possession and must make a request to the town manager each time there is a documented need detailing cost and purpose.”

He goes on to say, “The town has policies and procedures that will have to be developed in response to the audit.” Durham said the board created an Audit Committee that will go through each of the audit’s findings and recommendations and work to resolve them. The Audit Committee will make monthly reports to the board, the LGC, and the OSA on its progress.

The Audit Committee currently consists of two board members and himself, and he suggests perhaps including a citizen or two to enhance transparency.
There is no date or timetable for the LGC to turn over finances back to the town. “We discuss this on an ongoing basis,” he said. Once a strong finance director is in place, Durham believes the town can regain control of its finances by the end of the calendar year.

Commemorative event honors the fallen

13Memorial Day weekend is often considered a magical time, a time for barbecues, judicious application of sunscreen and the long-awaited re-opening of the local water hole.

But for many families across the nation, especially here on Fort Bragg, it is, first and foremost, a time to remember.
Fort Bragg Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, in partnership with Army Community Service, will host the Fort Bragg Run, Honor, Remember 5k on May 21, starting at 7:30 a.m.

This commemorative, family-friendly run/walk will occur at Hedrick Stadium on Fort Bragg and is open to Department of Defense cardholders and their guests.

A tradition started after 9/11 to recognize the ultimate sacrifice of those lost in combat zones during that time; the walk has only grown in popularity and significance since then.

The walk has been on hiatus since 2019 because of the pandemic, making this year especially meaningful for those coordinating the run.

"This is one of our favorite events," said Jennifer Fayson, special event coordinator, FMWR. I think it is so important to reflect upon how many servicemen and women have laid their lives down for us and remember the sacrifice of their families. It's especially important as we head into the memorial day weekend."

Over 7500 pairs of boots will be placed on the field at Hedrick Stadium to honor those soldiers who never returned home. The boots will stay on display for the entire Memorial Day weekend. It's a sight Fayson strongly urges people to come and experience for themselves.

"It's so moving to see them out there," Fayson told Up & Coming Weekly. "About 175 of them have been decorated by service members' families. I think that's my favorite part."
Home to over 500,000 active-duty soldiers, many families in the area know what it means to see a father, mother, son or friend walk out the door to serve their country. Many families also know that their loved ones' safe return is not guaranteed.

The Run, Honor, Remember 5k is a time when the community comes together to acknowledge that freedom has a cost and give thanks to those who pay it.

"Fort Bragg is a strong community and very supportive of our military in general," Fayson explained. "I love seeing the community come together. It's always such a large turnout because people want to show their support. They want to honor and remember soldiers who have given their lives in the ultimate sacrifice."

The event invites walkers, strollers, amblers and runners of all ages, fitness levels and abilities. There is no charge to participate, and no registration is required.

"It's open to anyone who would like to come," said Fayson. Family members, community members, spouses, kids—we invite everyone; it's a great event."

The pre-event ceremony for the Run, Honor, Remember 5k starts at 7:30 a.m., while the event itself is scheduled to end at 10 a.m.
Hedrick Stadium is located at Sedgewick Street on Fort Bragg.

For more information, call, 910-908-5977.

City unveils scoring system for grant applications

12Fayetteville officials on Monday, May 9 unveiled the scoring criteria for applicants to a grant program that they hope will decrease crime in the community.
As Carolina Public Press previously reported, the city’s Community Safety Microgrant program, for which the City Council approved $250,000 in funding last fall, elicits ideas from the community for addressing crime. The program launched last week.

Earlier this year, the Fayetteville Police Department released crime data from 2021, showing that violent crime had increased in the city as part of a national trend.
At a meeting last month regarding the program, Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins said that the microgrant program was inspired by a similar one in Charlotte.

“We all understand crime is a big problem to deal with,” Hawkins said. “A lot of different issues.”
While the program is open-ended, the police chief presented several examples to the City Council of what could come from the program.

These examples included conflict resolution, opportunities for youths, family stability and ways to address implicit bias, among others.

These are just examples, though, Hawkins emphasized. Applicants to the program can implement any idea through the program’s funding as long as they can show it will address crime and meet the program’s scoring standard.

“This is a community initiative,” Hawkins said. “They have the idea. They have the game plan. They have a program, and they grow this.”

Once an applicant submits an idea, a panel will evaluate the submission and render a score with a maximum of 100 points.
Four elements will be considered in the scoring process — inclusivity, collaboration, resourcefulness and innovation.

“Scoring is a pretty time-intensive process based on the number of applications we get,” said Chris Cauley, Fayetteville’s economic and community development director.
The ZIP codes 28314, 28305, 28303 and 28301 will also receive priority, receiving bonus points.

The panel that determines the score is made up of one representative each from the Fayetteville Redevelopment Commission, the Citizen Police Advisory Board, the Human Relations Commission, the city’s mental health sector and someone within the public school system.

“We are giving direction to not choose one entity to decide who will get the awards,” said Council Member Shakeyla Ingram. “We are compiling a community-based board or advisory committee to be able to decide who will get (the funding).”

Mayor Mitch Colvin said the program allows various community stakeholders to get involved in reducing crime.

“There are a lot of partners that played a role in this process,” he said. “Everybody is needed at the table in order for this to be successful.”

Any nonprofit organization with an operating budget of less than $100,000 can apply for the program. For-profit entities cannot participate.
Individuals can apply as well. Cauley said the program is designed for anyone of any educational level to apply.

He said anyone can call the city’s Economic Development Department at 910-433-1590 to get help with the application process.
More information for applicants is available at fayettevillenc.gov/microgrant.

Fayetteville City Council to seek voter approval of bond package on November ballot

11Voters in Fayetteville will be asked in November’s election to approve a bond package that would address public safety, infrastructure and affordable housing in the city.
The City Council unanimously voted May 9 at the regular Monday meeting to put the bonds on a referendum.

The bonds would be valued at $97 million, according to city documents, but the city could decrease that number over the next few months as the council finalizes the details of the package.
The amount, however, cannot go above that amount approved on Monday before the election in November.

Any amount approved by the voters would require a property tax increase, city officials said at a special council meeting late last month dedicated to the discussion of the bonds.

“The voters would be able to give us their say on it,” City Manager Doug Hewett said at April’s meeting. “If they say yes, then of course, we would have to raise the tax rate to honor the debt payments that the bond would generate.”

Residents will be able to vote on each area — public safety, infrastructure and housing — separately, as each will have its own portion among the $97 million maximum.

“(The referendum) gives the council full authority, and it also gives the voters and taxpayers in the city of Fayetteville the authority as well to tell us if that’s something they want us to do in these areas,” Hewett said.
The funds from the bonds would not be associated with any federal funds that the city has received from recent federal legislation, such as the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
Assistant City Manager Jay Toland said one-time funds from ARPA to be used for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic have already been obligated to various city projects.

“It’s not like we’re going to take these projects or this amount here and then supplant it with the ARPA money,” he said. “This is (for) additional needs outside of that.”
The funds from the bonds would be used for more recurring expenses, according to city officials.

“Despite all of the federal money that we have and the very careful financial planning that we do here as the city, we find that we have capital needs, which far exceed our ability to fund,” Hewett said.

“To address the significant public safety, unfunded needs, and not to mention potentially any housing, affordable housing issues that the council wishes to take, we would need a different funding method.”

Tax increase

If the bonds are approved by voters, it would cause an increase in property taxes in Fayetteville.
With each cent increase to the property tax, the city could fund $1.45 million in annual costs of repaying the bond, Toland said.
If the maximum $97 million is eventually put on November’s ballot, it would require an annual increase in property tax of just under 4 cents, based on a presentation Toland gave to the City Council.

Property taxes are calculated by dividing the value of the home or property by 100 and then multiplying by the cent increase.
A $200,000 home, for instance, would see a one-time annual property tax increase of about $80 under the 4 cents scenario, or a monthly increase of just under $7. If the total bond amount is decreased, though, the taxpayer burden will go down as well.
If the voters approve the bonds, the tax increase would not occur until fiscal year 2024 starts next summer, Toland said.
Aside from the bonds issue, there will be no tax increases in the upcoming city budget for the next fiscal year, Hewett said.

“There will not be a tax rate increase proposed in my budget that I’ll present to you in May,” he told the council at April’s bonds meeting. “There will not be an increase proposed in the budget for transit, solid waste or stormwater.”

The city had previously considered an increase in solid waste fees, Carolina Public Press reported earlier this year.

How each area will be funded

The maximum amount that could be approved for public safety, infrastructure and housing is $60 million, $25 million and $12 million, respectively.
The preliminary plans for the public safety portion is to construct and renovate various fire stations across the city and to build a police call center that would cost over $30 million.
Hewett said that the call center “is a must.”

Fayetteville Fire Chief Mike Hill said that the fire station locations are based on need, according to various data collected by the Fire Department.
The $60 million, though, would not cover all the construction. Details of which projects the bonds will fund will be determined over the next few months before the referendum is filed to the Board of Elections later this summer.

The $25 million infrastructure portion would cover new sidewalks, intersection improvements, new bike lanes and street repaving.

The remaining $12 million would be used to provide and rehabilitate multifamily and single-family housing within the city. It would also fund “programs to provide loans and other financial assistance” for housing-related costs, according to city documents.

The housing funds within the bonds would be used to benefit people of low and moderate income. Details for how that will be defined have yet to be determined.

At April’s bonds meeting, when the City Council approved of an additional housing portion, Mayor Mitch Colvin cited a previous city study, when advocating for the housing funds, that showed Fayetteville is short 20,000 homes for workforce level housing.


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