LAURINBURG — Though he will not take office until December, Laurinburg’s mayor-elect is wasting little time in putting pressure on city council to reconsider plans to build a new City Hall.
During the period reserved for public comment, Matthew Block took the podium Tuesday to urge council to review the possibility of renovating the existing City Hall, which also serves as the city’s police station. Block’s position was echoed by several city residents who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
“In my experience in controversial situations like this, most governing bodies will appoint a citizens’ committee to study the issue, or hold a series of public input sessions to explain the issues and get citizen feedback,” Mayor-elect Block said. “Responsible governing bodies do not just move ahead, ignoring public opinion.”
Citing an architectural study presented to council in early 2013, Block said that renovating the current building would cost the city $1 million — far less than the $5 million estimate for a new building.
The $1 million figure put forth by Block would cover renovation of 10,500 square feet of the existing city hall. The same architectural firm also recommended demolishing 1,600 square feet of the building and constructing a 6,000-square-foot addition at another $1.1 million in cost.
That would not provide space needed for a police station that was estimated at an additional cost of $1.8 million. The total cost of that plan was presented in 2013 as $5.3 million.
City resident Jim Henery told council to consider Block’s election as an expression of public opinion — although the same election returned two incumbent city council members to their seats.
“An analysis of this election would indicate that people are dissatisfied and not content with business as usual or decisions that are mad,” said Henery. “Many people are questioning the need and the cost of a $5 million city hall without more careful and extensive considerations of how to proceed or what else could be done.”
Preempting a presentation by Laurinburg Police Department Chief Darwin Williams recommending that the city refrain from implementing a youth curfew, local minister Michael Edds took the opportunity to urge city council to take seriously the issue of youth crime.
Edds has in the past prompted council to divert its attentions — and resources — from a new City Hall facility to a possible youth recreation center.
“You’ve got a terrible situation here: gangs are stealing our kids,” he said. “They’re dying, the crime rate is going through the roof, and you as a council … I want to ask you, what are you going to do about it? It’s not being addressed. What are you going to do about the crime rate? To me that’s a greater priority. What are you going to do about the kids dying in our streets?
“If you don’t want to do these things, what are you going to do to address the serious problem that we have?”
Also on Tuesday, council received a report on its 2014-2015 audit from Carl Head of the Parker, Wagoner, and Roche accounting firm.
In the last fiscal year, the city’s added $387,994 to its general fund balance after two years of losses.
The city’s electric enterprise fund also netter an operating cash increase of $414,800, though it still lost $314,400 with capital projects and interest payments factored in. In 2014, the electric fund had a cash loss of $986,550, preceded by a $741,086 loss in 2013.
“In 2014 you lost $986,000 from operations,” said Head. “That’s bad in any government, in any for-profit business, in any nonprofit business. You shouldn’t have that.”
Those losses were stemmed for the 2015 fiscal year by a 3.5 percent rate increase earlier this year.
In 2015, the city experienced a $1.1 million total cash decrease between its electric, water, and solid waste funds.
The audit also revealed a pair of findings, one based on the city’s lack of a full-time staff member with the ability to prepare the city’s financial statements. Currently the city employs a part-time interim finance director.
The water/sewer and solid waste funds appropriating fund balance that did not exist resulted in another finding.
“This is more of a technical budget issue,” Head said. “It’s whenever you’re doing your budget at the beginning of the fiscal year and you say you want to balance the budget with X amount of funds, but you didn’t have the funds to balance the budget with.”
In other business, council recognized Laurinburg Police Department Detective Chris Young and officer Larry Bowman on their receipt of Advanced Law Enforcement Certificates.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.