Mayor, council anticipate budget, change of government election

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Williamston Town Council work session

By Stan Welch

The Mayor and three members of the town council met Tuesday evening to review and hone the agenda for Monday’s upcoming Council meeting.

Among the key issues to be presented and addressed next week is the looming referendum on whether to change the town’s strong mayor form of government. In anticipation of the possible change, the mayor and council members Scott, Harvell and Burgess discussed a timetable for initiating the change, if it is approved.

The mayor suggested a transition period of thirty to ninety days, to which Burgess responded that at least a thirty day period should be observed. Scott, however, suggested that the change, if implemented, should begin on July 1, when the new budget year begins. All present agreed, even though that would cut the transition period to about three weeks, since the referendum is scheduled for early June.

The group also confirmed that town attorney Lee Cole would have a resolution of the intentions of Council ready for approval. That resolution will declare the Council’s intentions to concede to the mayor the authority to continue directing the day to day operations of the town, even if the strong mayor form of government is abandoned.

Said Councilman Burgess, who has spearheaded the referendum effort, “The last thing any of us wants to do is have to be up here every day, getting into all the day to day stuff. That would be a disaster. So we need to make it clear that, if the change is approved, we want the mayor to continue his duties, if he will accept that. If not, I guess we’ll have to hire someone to do it.”

Another item on the agenda is a fairly significant amendment to the existing budget. The proposed amendment includes several items related to the hospitality tax budget, as well as several more that would impact the general fund budget.

Among the hospitality budget items is the purchase of a utility vehicle of some sort for the police department and the public works department to share. Budgeted at $8700, the vehicle is more likely to be a multi use vehicle like a Gator, rather than a classic four wheel ATV. An additional $9000 for park and recreations equipment will be included, as well as a proposed expenditure of $12,500 for painting at the town hall. Mayor Durham said that the total amount of work needed is closer to $23,000, but the Council and the Mayor are reluctant to dip into the $400,000 recreation funds that are currently in savings.

The possible uses of those funds was discussed, with Councilman Burgess opining that the money, after a certain time, can be rolled into the town’s reserve fund, which looks better at audit time.

Attorney Cole was also instructed to research the question of whether hospitality tax funds can be used to pay certain salaries, or percentages of salaries.

Under the general fund budget, one of the items is a shelter to be constructed at the Gray Drive walking track site. Pamela Owens, whose battle against the Greenville & Western Railroad over the Gray Drive bridge is well known, has requested the shelter for use by the area’s residents.

The shelter, at $6000 proposed budget, would ordinarily be funded through hospitality tax funds, but according to the discussion Tuesday night, Owens does not want that method to be used. To do so would not only require that the park be open to the public but that it be promoted as a recreational or tourist destination; something Owens has apparently strongly rejected.

Also under the general fund budget is the possible purchase of a new telephone system for the town hall. The current system is best described as a maze that seldom leads anywhere. Burgess, whose expertise in the electronic alarm and communications industry, was most applicable, told them that he had just recently installed a specific system that he felt would meet all the town’s needs, and would be much easier to customize or modify in the future.

Also discussed was the possible sale of two of the town’s older garbage trucks in order to defray the costs of purchasing a used truck from a nearby municipality, if and when the possibility arises.

The new Main Street program director, Sonja Crandall, will also be introduced Monday night when the council meets at 6 p.m.