Council to spend $20,000 at park

pseligson@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2014 

Smithfield is immediately committing $20,000 to Smith-Collins Park.

The Town Council made the decision at its meeting last week. Instead of seeking a county-open space grant, the money will come from extra dollars in the Parks and Recreation Department budget.

Concession sales, grants and an advertising contract with Pepsi have generated more money than expected this year. And last Tuesday, Parks and Recreation Director Tim Johnson asked the council for permission to use those extra dollars to replace five scoreboards – four at Community Park and one at the Citivan Youth Baseball Field.

Instead, Councilman Travis Scott asked Johnson to use the money to improve Smith-Collins Park, and the rest of the council agreed. At a budget meeting last month, Councilman Marlon Lee showed his fellow councilmen photos of poor conditions at the park, including rundown restrooms and only one set of bleachers for the baseball field.

“I’ve visited the park, and it’s embarrassing, and I feel like they deserve better,” Scott said.

The town will form a committee of citizens, councilmen and staff to figure how to spend the $20,000 at Smith-Collins.

As for the scoreboards, the council will seek a county grant to replace those.

Johnson said the scoreboards are working but not well and constantly need to have bulbs replaced.

Electric rates

The council will soon invite residents to a meeting about Smithfield’s electric rates.

This decision came after East Smithfield resident Glenda Jordan complained to the council last week. She showed the council her neighbor’s electricity bills, which are as high as $600 some months, even though his 1,200-square-foot house is newly-renovated.

Jordan said it’s not fair that the council transfers money from the electric department into the general fund. If those transfers stopped and the town didn’t cut spending, it would have to raise the property tax. “I don’t have a problem with that,” Jordan said, “because I think every resident of Smithfield should pay to the expenses of operating Smithfield.”

Jordan asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they lived in East Smithfield, and 10 to 15 did so. She then asked homeowners in the group if they would rather pay higher property taxes and lower electricity rates, and a handful said yes.

Jordan added that the county’s senior citizens get a break on their property taxes, so ending the transfers would benefit them if the council had to raise the tax rate.

West Smithfield residents buy their electricity from Duke Progress Energy, which offers a cheaper rate. “The people in East Smithfield, it’s creating a hardship on some of the people,” Jordan said. “I don’t think it’s fair for a selective community to have to pick up the expenses of a town when everbody has that responsibility.”

The council didn’t respond to Jordan after she spoke, but at the end of the meeting, Councilman Lee brought the topic back up. Scott later suggested having a meeting with citizens upset about their power bills. He also wants the utilities department to compare Smithfield’s rates to Duke’s for both residential and commercial customers.

The council asked the town manager to explore a suitable date for the meeting.

Other business

•  Stanley King and Wallace Green of the Raleigh Area Development Authority gave an update on the East Smithfield Community Development Block Grant. They will start surveying East Smithfield this month about quality-of-life topics. After that, Piedmont Natural Gas will survey residents about their interest in natural gas.

The next stage of the process – seeking grant dollars based on the survey results – has stalled because of changes at the state level, but RADA is trying to find new options. So far, it’s found another grant and given five nonprofits in the area about $12,000.

•  Councilman Lee responded to a Smithfield Herald editorial. He said he stands for East Smithfield and noted that the town is addressing problems there.

•  The council changed the rules that governn electronic billboards. Before, Smithfield allowed the signs to change only once every 30 seconds. But at the request of Hank Daniels, who owns a sign, the council said the signs can change every eight second. That’s in line with state Department of Transportation rules.

•  At the last budget meeting, Mayor John Lampe wanted to hire Tom Speight, former public utilities director in Fayetteville, to offer a second opinion on Smithfield’s water-system needs. For now, the council won’t hire Speight, though that could change later, Lampe said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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