Smithfield’s balance sheet is finally giving the town room to breathe.
Smithfield ended fiscal year 2012-13 with a roughly $1.5 million surplus in the general fund, Town Manager Paul Sabiston told the town council last week. He’ll know the exact number after the audit of the town’s 2012-13 finances.
About $300,000 of the surplus is spoken for, Sabiston said. (At last week’s council meeting, the town manager had put that number at roughly $500,000; he later revised it downward.)
Some $130,000 of the surplus will erase a debt at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center, where unpaid membership dues over the past five years created a hole. Early on, the SRAC accepted monthly installment payments on yearly memberships, and not everyone paid. To keep that from happening, the SRAC, for the past two years, has charged memberships to credit cards.
In an accounting move, another $176,000 of the surplus will help show a balanced budget in the electric department, which ran a slight deficit this past year. Some electric fund profits go to the general fund, so the surplus will essentially return some of that money so that its revenue and expenses balance.
The rest of the surplus – about $1.2 million – will go into savings and bring Smithfield’s cash reserves to about 12 percent of general fund spending, perhaps 14 percent. The council has told Sabiston that it wants cash reserves to reach 25 percent of spending; in 2011, cash reserves were just 1 percent.
Also last week, the council gave Sabiston a 5.3 percent raise, bringing his 2013-2014 pay to $100,000. It is the manager’s first raise; he joined the town last year. He described his raise as playing catch-up with his fellow town employees, who were eligible for merit-based raises last year.
During the public comment period at last week’s council meeting, East Smithfield resident Dennis Williams reminded the council that Piedmont Natural Gas had still not brought service to his community. The company, he said, promised to do so when it brought natural gas to the rest of Smithfield in the 1980s.
Williams brought the same matter to the council’s attention two years ago.
“It’s now time that the council say to Piedmont Natural Gas, ‘You either fulfill your obligation or give your franchise to someone who will,’ ” Williams said.
The council asked Sabiston to look into the matter and report back in September.
The state’s decision to suspend funding for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center has put a Smithfield project in limbo, the council learned.
The Rural Center approved a $30,000 grant to Smithfield to perform a water-intake study, with the town chipping in another $32,250. But Earl Botkin, public utilities director, said the grant is now in question.
“They are just as confused as those of us who have grants,” Botkin said of the Rural Center staff.
He said his contact there told him, “Hopefully by the end of the month, those grants will have gone through the process and will be either reapproved or denied.”
The council backed the study, contingent upon receiving the grant.