Smithfield to buy pool heaters

pseligson@newsobserver.comMarch 10, 2014 

The Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center hopes to reopen its Splash Park soon.

Last week, the Town Council agreed to buy a new water heater for the Splash Park, which is the children’s swimming area at the SRAC. The heater broke down March 3, shutting down that part of the pool.

“That’s a revenue generator for us,” said Tim Johnson, director of the Parks and Recreation department. Last weekend, SRAC had to cancel 14 birthday parties, or about $2,000 in revenue. The Splash Park is a main attraction for kids and families, Johnson said, adding that he wanted it reopened as soon as possible.

The SRAC has five heaters for its swimming pools: two for the Splash Park and three for the rest of the pool. Two of the five had already broken, one heater for each, and just recently, the second one for the Splash Park broke down.

Councilmen asked why the heaters were breaking down so soon; the SRAC isn’t that old. Apparently, Johnson said, the contractor improperly installed residential heaters instead of commercial heaters for the pools.

The council voted to buy one new heater immediately for $10,000, with the Johnston County schools paying half. Also, the council agreed to seek bids to replace the rest of the heaters, including the two working heaters because they are likely on their last legs.

Financial matters

The Town Council made a handful of financial decisions last week.

The town will pay a consultant $2,200 to find ways to raise revenue and lower expenses in the electric department.

Last month, an audit revealed that Smithfield is not following rules it agreed to when it borrowed about $5 million to build an electric substation. Those rules require a certain ratio of revenue to expenses in the electric department. The revenue dropped below the required ratio last year.

This means Smithfield is technically on its way to defaulting on the debt, even the town has enough money in other departments to meet its obligations. Because the revenue-to-expense ratio is out of whack, the bond rules require Smithfield to hire an outside consultant to make a recommendation on how to fix the problem.

The Town Council is hiring Power Services, managed by R.L. Willoughby. Also, the town will try to refinance the debt so it doesn’t have to follow the bond rules.

Also last week, a unanimous council approved changes to employee comp time. Under the change, salaried employees, including the town manager and department heads, can no longer receive comp time for working more than 40 hours in a week. In extreme circumstances, though, such as working long hours during a snow storm, the town manager can grant salaried employees personal leave later.

The council changed the town’s vendor for credit and debit card transactions. Finance director Greg Siler recommended the change. Before, Smithfield used First Citizens Bank, which charged about $70,000 for its services last year. Siler found a cheaper option, PNC, which will save the town anywhere from $21,600 to $36,000 a year.

The council decided to develop a new strategic plan for Smithfield, spending about $2,000 to help hire a consulting firm. The total cost is about $10,000, but others are chipping in.

Other business

Smithfield is moving forward on landscape improvements for West Market Street. The goal is to beautify the entrances to town, adding trees and shrubs along the road. The N.C. Department of Transportation has committed $30,000 to the project.

The council will hold its May meeting at the fire station, which is across the street from Town Hall. This is because that meeting, on May 6, is the same day as the primary election, and Town Hall is a voting site.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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