Councilmen will pay themselves more

pseligson@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2014 

  • About the budget

    The big picture

    Smithfield’s biggest fees are staying the same. The property-tax rate will remain at 57 cents per $100 valuation. Electricity rates are staying put too. For residents, that’s $7.98 monthly, plus 12.07 cents per kilowatt-hour. Also for residents, the water rate will remain $6.02 a month, plus $4.08 for every 1,000 gallons used.

    Athletics

    Sports teams renting fields will pay an extra $30 to $50 for staff to prepare the space. This is only for games and tournaments, not practices. The prep fee is on top of the rental fee, which is $25 for two hours during the day and $40 for two hours at night.

    Fees

    The town council raised a handful of fees that mostly affect developers. The minimum cost of a storm-water permit is now $850, up from $750. The annual storm-water inspection fee, which varies by lot size, will cost more. Here’s the breakdown: for lots under an acre, $750, up from $500; one to three acres, $1,000, up from $750; and more than three acres, $1,250, up from $1,000.

    Getting a water meter for your property will cost more too. For a 0.75-inch water line, the cost will climb slightly, from $90 to $95. For a three-inch water line, the price will jump from $1,795 to $2,020.

    Also, the fee for tapping onto the town’s water supply will rise from $600 to $700 for a 0.75-inch pipe and from $1,475 to $1,900 for a two-inch pipe.

    People requesting public records will pay slightly more. If a member of the town’s IT staff has to fill the request, the cost will be $14 an hours, up from $10. Also, for security reasons, people can no longer bring their own CDs and DVDs for records. The town will provide a CD for $1.50, a DVD for $2 or a flash drive for however much the town paid for it.

    Electric fund transfer

    This year, the electric fund transfer was $730,000. The council reduced that by $157,000, to $573,000.

The Smithfield Town Council last week adopted a 2014-15 budget that raises the cost of some services while granting pay raises to council members and the mayor.

The council cut spending in the general fund by $200,000, to $12.9 million from $13.1 million, and by $300,00 in the electric fund, to $19.8 million from $20.1 million. But those cuts fall short of offsetting a $900,000 increase in the water and sewer fund, which will see spending grow from $5.6 million to $6.5 million to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The new budget cuts five maintenance positions, three from public works and two from parks and recreation. Instead, the town will hire contractors to do the work, such as cutting grass.

Last week, Smithfield held its last two budget meetings of the year. During the first, councilmen nitpicked spending, shaving a handful of expenses while approving raises for themselves and town employees. The second meeting was a public hearing on the spending plan.

Council raises

Under the new budget, a councilman who made $2,557 a year will now make $4,000. The mayor, who used to make $4,375 a year, will make $6,000.

Councilmen broached the subject of pay raises for themselves at an earlier meeting and asked Town Manager Paul Sabiston to look at how Smithfield compared to other towns. He found that Smithfield council pay was low compared to the state average for towns of similar size. Also, Smithfield hadn’t raised its council salaries for at least 15 years, Mayor John Lampe said.

At an earlier meeting, Lampe had said: “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. It shouldn’t be a negative to you, because otherwise, only wealthy people can run.”

The council approved the raises 5-1, with Emery Ashley casting the lone dissenting vote. Perry Harris abstained, which counts as a yes. Andy Moore left the meeting early and wasn’t there for the vote.

“I know how much time I spend serving on this town council,” Ashley said. “I knew the salary going in; I didn’t do it for the salary.”

Lampe said he would continue to accept only $1 a year in salary. And at Wednesday’s meeting, Ashley said he would not accept the pay raise.

On a related matter, the council also asked staff to see if pay for service on town committees was in line with what similar-sized towns pay.

Budget changes

The council approved 2-percent merit raises for town employees.

Originally, on Monday, the council had agreed to award 2.5-percent merit raises to hourly employees and bonuses of no more than $1,000 to managers. Councilman Travis Scott made that motion, noting that bonuses for managers would cost less than pay increases.

That move did not enjoy unanimous support, with Councilmen Andy Moore and Roger Wood voting against it. Wood said he didn’t want to treat employees differently.

On Wednesday, Councilman Harris made a motion to award 2-percent merit raises for all employees, and that motion passed unanimously.

The council cut library funding slightly, from $275,000 to $250,000. The council had given about $257,000 in 2011-12 and 2012-13 before bumping it up to $272,000 this year. Sabiston said the library requested $275,000 for the coming year, but Harris said the council should give what it has historically given the library.

The council earmarked $20,000 next year for economic development. The money will come from the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. Interim director Sarah Edwards said that was fine with her since she is the only employee until a her board hires a new director. The downtown group will make do with $55,000 next year instead of $75,000. Ashley suggested earmarking the $20,000 for economic development and deciding later what to do with it.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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