Williamston begins budget work


Mayor proposes five percent pay raise

By Stan Welch

Mayor Mack Durham wasted little time at Thursday’s budget workshop, declaring his intentions to present a significant budget amendment at the next Council meeting. Durham explained that the Town’s finances are in very good shape, and that several pressing needs can be addressed during the current budget year, while still making a substantial addition to the town’s contingency funds.

Durham explained that while the Town has been addressing its financial challenges, some maintenance and equipment issues have been allowed to go by the wayside. But the most pressing need, according to Durham, is pay raises for the Town’s employees. “It has been ten years since the employees have had a raise, so I will be offering a budget amendment that will provide an immediate across the board five per cent increase to every employee.”

Durham also discussed a number of items that need to be addressed, such as maintenance and repairs to the Municipal Center. “We have some moisture problems in the building. You can see places in the roof of this room, and places where paint is peeling from the walls, probably due to moisture within the walls. We really need to address these things now that we are in better financial condition as a town.”

Town Clerk Michelle Starnes verified that the state of the current budget is such that one hundred and thirty two thousand dollars could be reallocated for the various uses, while still putting an additional one hundred thousand dollars into savings. “Our general fund surplus is approximately $232,000 , which allows some leeway in taking on some of these things.”

In addition, Mayor Durham said that in the coming budget year, he hopes to implement a program of merit raises, based on such individual achievements as the attaining of new certifications, whether in law enforcement training, or water and sewer technical expertise. He agreed with Councilman Otis Scott that every employee should have access to the merit program.

Police Chief Tony Taylor asked that the position of code enforcement officer, pertaining to compliance with the town’s grass ordinances, be made a paid part time position, in lieu of the current volunteer arrangement. He also sought funding to hire part time officers for assignment in the parks during the summer peak of activity there.

In addition, Chief Taylor cited the proposed use of body cameras by every patrol officer, as well as the possible purchase of four more tazers. He also explained that with the increase in public activities in the town’s parks and public spaces, an all terrain vehicle would be a useful tool for the police department. Mayor Durham also acknowledged that several thousand dollars worth of interior repair and maintenance is needed in the police department’s space.

Various department heads were asked for a list of things that they would like to see addressed, and as Mayor Durham said, “The wish list gets pretty long pretty quickly, as you might imagine.

Public Works Director David Rogers had some technology requests for use in keeping better track of the condition of the town’s water and sewer lines, as well as a proposal to replace up to 43 street signs, which mark side streets off of the town’s main thoroughfares. He too proposed the purchase of an all terrain vehicle to make inspection of the town’s sewer lines easier to perform.

Fire Chief Steve Ellison reported that the roof of the fire department has reached the point where it has to be replaced. He also reported that he has feelers out to try and buy a used fire truck from the Greenville Fire Department. “We will sell one of ours at that time, so it should be a wash as far as the money goes.”

He also reported that the department’s turnout gear was purchased all at once, many years ago. “Our gear is worn out. We got it with a FEMA grant and we are applying for another grant. But if we don’t get that grant, we need to replace at least five sets of gear each year, starting now. That’s about $2800 a set.”

A brief discussion was held concerning the use of some of the $400,000 in hospitality tax funds. Indications are that it will mostly be used to match available grant funds for projects related to tourism and recreation in the town. The mayor announced that he had received a letter of resignation that morning from municipal judge Sherman Woodson. “Judge Woodson has given many years of public service to our town, but he has decided it is time for him to retire. We will be speaking with a number of possible replacements, and will present those names to the Council soon.”