Smithfield Town Council turns attention to Smith-Collins Park

pseligson@newsobserver.comApril 28, 2014 

The Smithfield Town Council will seek county dollars to improve Smith-Collins Park and possibly reopen the Eva Ennis Municipal Pool in East Smithfield.

At a budget meeting last week, the council agreed to seek up to $20,000 from a newly opened pool of county money for recreation.

Mayor John Lampe raised the prospect of reopening the Eva Ennis Pool, which the council closed some years ago, saying it needed costly upgrades the town could not afford.

Parks and Recreation Director Tim Johnson said he would need about $60,000 for the needed upgrades, plus $16,000 to $20,000 a summer for personnel and supplies to operate the pool.

One money-saving suggestion was to reopen the pool as a splash park for small children, because that would be cheaper.

But Councilman Marlon Lee said that was unacceptable because he wanted other ages to be able to use the pool. “Young adults can’t use a splash park,” said Lee, who represents East Smithfield.

Lee brought up Smith-Collins Park, just down the street from the pool, saying it was in disrepair and needed fixing.

Town Manager Paul Sabiston noted that Smithfield had spent more than $15,000 on the park in recent years.

Lee was not impressed. “Have you seen Smith-Collins Park?” he asked.

Lee, who lobbied for park improvements long before he ran for office, briefly retreated to his car during the budget meeting and returned with poster boards that held photos of current park conditions.

His fellow council members gathered around, looked at the photos and agreed that the park needed help. Already in the budget for the coming year is $10,000 to resurface the tennis courts.

The Parks and Recreation Department no longer plays games on the park’s baseball field, which has just one stand of bleachers. The snack box and bathrooms are in disrepair, but the playground equipment is new.

A long discussion about parks ensued. When the town built the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center, which is on the grounds of Community Park, the intent was to centralize recreation there.

But Lee noted that not all Smithfield residents can get to SRAC and Community Park because they’re so far north of the rest of town. And the council agreed that as long as Smithfield owns a park, it should maintain that park.

That’s when the council agreed to seek the county dollars. Johnson, the recreation director, and Lee will work together on the application.

The application is unlikely to include money for the pool because of the cost.

Salary raise for council?

Council members are thinking about raising their pay.

The mayor makes $4,375 a year, and councilmen take home $2,557. Those salaries haven’t changed in at least 15 years, the mayor said.

At an earlier budget meeting, council members began discussing a pay raise and asked staff to compare Smithfield’s salaries with those paid in nearby towns. In fiscal 2013-14, Benson, which is much smaller than Smithfield, will pay its mayor $4,200 and council members $2,700. Selma, with about 6,000 people, will pay its mayor $2,400 and council members $1,800. The numbers in Clayton are $8,748 for the mayor and $6,480 for council members.

Councilman Emery Ashley opposed a pay increase. “We all ran to serve,” he said. “I do think everybody here puts an awful lot of time and deserves it, but there’s no way I can support any type of increase, especially when we’re in a period of tight budgets and asking our department heads to rein in expenditures.”

Lampe said the council should increase pay. “If it’s a burden to serve the town, if it costs you money to come and be a council member, then there’s something wrong,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a negative to you, because otherwise, only wealthy people can run.” Lampe is wealthy and accepts $1 a year in salary.

The council will decided later whether to raise its pay.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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