Williamston mayor lays groundwork in budget for improving town operations, quality of life


By David Meade
During a budget work session held last Thursday, Williamston Mayor Mack Durham continued making his case for improvements for the town operations and other areas of service the town provides. He also touched on recommendations related to water, sewer and sanitation to address expected increases and current deficits the town has in the departments.

Durham’s presentation on “Administrative Stewardship and Responsible Revenues” and “Creating Good Government on the Local Level” was followed with his budget recommendations.
The presentation focused on principles of good government including financial stewardship, unifiying the community and giving a voice, having visual positive growth, creating pride and ownership through planning, participation and progress.
Also becoming a destination for local citizens decreases financial bleed by strengthening local economic participation, creating opportunities to move beyond maintenance and into community growth.
He also wants to work to redefine the local leadership as “community champions instead of the government.”
Durham said he wants the town to be proactive, not reactive to crisis actions and his budget reflects the topics addressed in the presentation.
Durham said the town has seven areas of financial need that he wants to address including daily operations and maintenance, replacement, systems upgrades, cost of living and salary increases, merit raises, training expenses and quality of life and community growth amenties.
Operations and Maintenance is a major area that he wants to focus on with upgrades and replacement of equipment based on the useful  life and maintenance costs,
In his budget, Durham has included a new Packer truck, tipper cans, a flat bed truck, a loader and four patrol cars.
He has several one time expenditures budgeted to come out of reserves.
Systems upgrades include using improved technology to create cost saving and efficiencies.
Among those are water meter replacement to radio read meters, sanitation canisters for trash pick up which will increase safety and efficiency, water system upgrades, sewer system upgrades, IT upgrades, GPS vehicle mapping, GIS resource mapping.
Other improvements include a Minor Street sidewalkproject and implementing a PRT grant to extend the Mineral Spring Trail project.
There is a small water system upgrade project planned and a contract with  Clearwater for sewer plant operations.
The mayor is also recommending facility upgrades for recreation, park, events and walking trails.
Among those are upgrades to the Town Hall auditorium that will create a downtown venue that he says will encourage economic development.
Durham said he is talking with School District officials about improvements he would like to see on the ballfield property located behind the Municipal Center.
The mayor said the town has been awarded a PARD grant that will be used for a fence around the army tank in the Veterans park. He also wants to provide a memorial marker for the National Guard at the Artory and is looking at creating a dog park
Other recommendations include providing training and certification for employees on jobsite safety and operating equipment.
The mayor said he is also considering a fall retreat for council.
Durham said the town is looking at several increases that need to be addressed through rate or fee increases.
He said they are expecting an increase in water rates of five percent from the Anderson Joint Regional Water System.
Durham is recommending council consider restructuring the town’s  water rates to help address the cost of the water meter upgrade project and cover the AJRWS increase. He is recommending a five percent rate increase and a decrease in the mininum gallons from 2000 to 1000 gallons.
He is recommending a sewer rate increase of seven percent to help address camera and cleaning requirements and an operations deficit.
He also wants to address aging sewer operations and work needed at the treatment plant, including collection lines.
Lines must be catalogued and cleaned over a five years period at an annual cost of  $52,000.
Durham said that property tax is the main revenue for the town, but it is limited. According to the mayor, annual tax increases do not  make any significant impact,  with only minimal revenue of about $27,000 per year.
His recommendation is to use economic development incentives to stimulate residential development in an effort to increase the tax base.
The mayor is also recommending an increase in the sanitation fee and is proposing a structured sanitation fee that will help fund sanitation and decrease some financial losses in the department. He said it is currently operating at an annual deficit of $217,000.
Durham said he recommends the town go with a larger container and a small container for trash, based on estimated usage.
Rates would be increased from the current $7 to $12.50 for the small container and from $7 to $14 for the larger container.
The sanitation fee was reduced from $14 to $7 in 2005, resulting in an annual deficit, he said.
The town is planning one more budget work session before final reading is held on the budget, which is expected to be at the June meeting of Council.