LAURINBURG — A cross-section of the city’s population filled City Hall in a Thursday night session with the Laurinburg City Council for public input on the 2016-2017 budget.
More than 50 city residents attended, gathering in groups to compile lists of new and improved services that might benefit Laurinburg and those who live — and work — within its limits.
Though specific items varied from table to table, the suggestions produced an image of a city with bright, uniform street lighting and litter-free sidewalks, and free from the blight of dilapidated structures. Each group worked with a city department head, who presented the final list after about 30 minutes of discussion.
The evening’s strong turnout did not go unnoticed by council members and staff.
“I appreciate all of you coming; it’s been a good crowd,” said council member Dee Hammond. “It’s the largest crowd I have seen in a long time, and we need more citizens coming to our meetings.”
“I really like the diverse, young and younger crowd that we have,” said city technology administrator Josh Coble. “It’s awesome. Let’s continue this showing up.”
Amenities like recreational facilities, a downtown museum, and street cameras also had a place on the public wish list.
“I liked all of the ideas, the community center, and the recreation because people get in trouble when they don’t have anything to do: play basketball or go to a gym or anything,” said Trashawn Campbell, a Scotland High School senior.
“Older people aren’t going to want to talk about youth issues, so I felt like by coming I could at least put a voice to where the youth are at.”
Though ongoing controversy over the city council’s study of a potential new municipal building was largely placed aside for the evening, one group promoted the idea outright and another suggested that city residents may be receptive with a more complete picture of the city’s finances.
“They said the citizens as a whole need a better starting point to understand where we are financially, and until that happens you can’t really prioritize whether you’re going to do a capital project or city maintenance or whatever,” said interim finance director Mary McNeill.
City Manager Charles Nichols kicked off the session with a cursory overview of the city’s financial state, including general fund expenditures that have waned to $6.6 million in 2015 from $7.2 million in 2011.
City native Frank Evans, who said that his job involves extensive travel, suggested that the city adopt more innovative measures to attract new businesses.
“I see towns that are much smaller than we are, that economically are far worse off than we are, but they get one or two big employers to come in with two or three hundred jobs, or they do off-the-wall ideas to bring people in, and we just don’t do that,” he said. “That bothers me.”
Evans left the session satisfied with the ideas presented, but he was less confident that it would result in action by the council and called for members of the public to take an active interest in the city’s governance.
“I think there’s a lot of people who flat out don’t care because they don’t think they’ll be listened to,” he said. “The issues that are going on with our city are not addressed: they’re not addressed in a planning meeting, they’re not addressed on a monthly basis unless people are willing to participate and have our council members actually listen to what they’re saying.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.