LAURINBURG — The Laurinburg City Council decided in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday night to loosen its ties to the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation, and to withhold, at least temporarily, the bulk of its annual contribution to the EDC.
Citing the 18-month vacancy in the corporation’s director seat, council member J.D. Willis made the motion to reallocate $20,000 of the $32,000 the city is due to provide to the EDC for the current year to the city’s community development department.
“We’ve got quite a few things going which we could better utilize within the city limits of Laurinburg,” Willis said. “This is not saying that we are pulling out altogether; it’s just saying that for this year’s budget, we take and reallocate $20,000.”
Council member Curtis Leak, who represents the city on the EDC board, opposed.
“If all we participate is $32,000 and you take $20,000, that means your partnership is gone,” he said. “Regardless if you don’t have a director, we still meet, we’re seeking a director, projects are still going, and if you come to some of the meetings you’ll find out some people now are looking at Laurinburg… some things are going and I don’t want to pull what little bit we have in there.”
Willis also suggested that the city use its resources to focus on retail development while the EDC works to recruit industry. After council member Dee Hammond proposed an amendment to Willis’ motion, council voted to withhold $20,000 until the EDC hires a director or otherwise demonstrates its need for those funds.
“We can just kind of maybe park it until closer to budget time and see where all this plays out and try and work with the county and let them know that we’re really serious about this and if we don’t get any bang for our buck, then eventually we’re going to have to try our monies elsewhere,” Hammond said.
In the absence of Mayor Matthew Block, council’s first order of business Tuesday was to confer the duties and authority of mayor to mayor pro tempore Mary Jo Adams for the duration of the meeting.
Council also received an update from the architecture firm designing a prospective new city hall — but after more than 30 minutes of input from eight city residents who oppose the project and its $5 million anticipated price tag.
“It seems like just about everywhere I go there’s a lot of concern about this expenditure,” said Laurinburg attorney Michael Schmidt, who pressed for the city to hold a public input meeting on the subject.
“We are economically constricted from what we used to be. This seems like an enormous project at an enormous cost and no one seems to know where the funding’s going to come from. We would like to know that.”
Resident Robert Currie suggested allowing the police department to take over the current city hall building and moving all other city departments to an existing building, and Mary Evans said that the city should consider last year’s election of Block as an expression of the majority opinion.
“Mayor Block’s campaign was based on stopping the construction of a new city hall, and he won the election overwhelmingly,” Evans said. “This is a mandate for you to cease with your new city hall plans.”
In other business on Tuesday, council:
— Appointed Adams as its representative on the Lumber River Council of Governments board and council member Dee Hammond as alternate.
— Authorized tax collector Diane Chavis to advertise $261,798 in outstanding tax liens between March 7-11.
— Adopted a resolution in gratitude to the city of Lumberton’s electric department for its assistance in restoring power in the aftermath of last month’s ice storm.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.