Administrator’s job safe for now

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Revised – Less than two weeks after the election, and before being sworn in as mayor, councilman and mayor-elect Mack Durham began attempting to correct what he says is “overspending” on the town’s budget, starting with a cut in funding for the administrator’s position.

Speaking during the public comments portion of the Williamston Town Council meeting Monday, mayor-elect Durham, who will be sworn in January 7, 2013, read a prepared statement saying he was honored to be elected as the town’s new mayor and thanked mayor Crout for working with him for a smooth transition.

Durham’s statements started on a positive note of the council and mayor working together but quickly turned more serious.

He said that the town needs to get into “budgetary compliance” and that residents “will see immediate and noticeable changes.” He said that the town overspent on its budget by $230,000 and has six months to correct it before the 2013-14 budget is approved.

“I intend to take immediate action to avoid overspending,” he said. Durham said he was already working with Councilman Mike Looper and the town’s financial advisor Boyd Greene, for necessary budget changes and that he believes they can be made without affecting any services provided to citizens.

After taking action on several items, Council then addressed three items placed on the agenda at the request of Durham including administrator position funding, spending limits and a hiring/firing freeze.

Durham immediately made a motion, which Councilman Mike Looper seconded, to de-fund the administrator’s position.

“We are headed for a deficit with expenses exceeding revenues and to remedy this there will have to be some spending cuts,” Durham said. He said he hoped to make spending cuts through positions that he said “won’t affect services to the people of Williamston” and said it was necessary to make the change (with the administrator’s position) now to avoid having to cut three positions later.

During the discussion, Mayor Crout stated that the overspending Durham keeps referring to was for the recently completed parking lot improvements behind town hall which he said was paid for out of the town’s capital reserve fund.

Durham continued stating that the town needed to get spending within revenues or raise taxes. “We need to tighten our belt and find this money to the best of our abilities.”

Durham said that the issue was not a discussion of the quality of work provided by the current administrator or her qualifications. “I don’t believe we can afford this position at this time,” he said.

The motion to de-fund the position failed with 2-3 vote with councilman Tony Hagood, councilman David Harvell and Mayor Crout opposed.

Durham moved to the next item.

“We need to get a cap and hold on this spending as quickly as possible” he said before making a motion “to limit spending for the next 35 days.” Durham said the limit would not apply to regular payments or bonuses but any spending over $750 would require approval by council. Councilman Looper seconded the motion.

Crout responded that the town already has spending limits in place and that there was no other spending planned other than normal bills. “That is not going to happen, not this late in my administration.”

The motion failed with a 2-3 vote, with Durham and Looper voting for the limits, and Councilmen Hagood and Harvell and the mayor against.

Durham also requested a hiring and firing freeze to avoid “some random hiring and firing going on this last few days before January 7.

Crout stated, “I have no intention of hiring or firing anyone until the end of the year.” He said that was also the reason he had not filled the police chief position, that if there was a change with the election the new administration could fill it.

“It would be foolish for this administration to fire anyone,” he said. “I would not do that. By the same token I would not hire anyone. I won’t be the one to work with them.”

The hiring/firing freeze was approved with a 3-2 vote. Crout and Harvell opposed the motion, while Hagood, Durham and Looper voted in favor.

At the end of the meeting, Crout began to make his closing comments when he was interrupted by Councilman Looper who began to explain the reserve fund balance and what it could be used for.

When he finished, Crout continued . . . “This is my last night on council and my last night as mayor,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the town for the last four to six years. I leave the town debt free. The only obligation is a $5 million loan/grant for the waste water treatment plant which has been well documented. You will have new leadership and a new council,” he said before finishing with a trademark signoff phrase he picked up from famous broadcaster Paul Harvey, “Good Day!”