Laurinburg kicks off fiscal review for 2016-17

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — In a meeting on Monday to begin reviewing its 2017 budget, the Laurinburg City Council considered the city’s likely capital needs for the next five years.

Harold Haywood, the city’s general services director, presented a capital improvement plan based on priorities identified by St. Andrews University master’s of business administration students in interviews with city department heads.

“One of the purposes of this is to identify needs ahead of time,” said Haywood. “That’s why it’s so critical that our utility rates and everything else are set at a rate that we can start building that cash reserve to be able to take care of some of these projects in the future that are definitely coming down the road.”

Major projects include $2 million for a new electrical substation scheduled for 2020 to serve the southern portion of the city and thereby prolong the life of the transformer at the station on West Boulevard. According to electrical utilities director Robert Smith, a new substation would take at least two years to build and could be located behind the city’s sewer plant.

“Instead of one station feeding the whole town we could split the load onto two stations and possibly get by a few more years with the transformer in existence on West Boulevard,” Smith said. “If they ever develop an industrial park on the north side, it would give us more capability to handle any industry that might come.”

General fund capital projects, primarily for the police, fire, and street departments, including the scheduled replacement of a city pumper truck in 2020, total $2.8 million through 2021.

According to Haywood, the final version of a capital improvement plan presented to council would include strategies for financing proposed projects.

“We’ll seek any financing available of course,” he said. “We’ll be very aggressive with grants like we have been, debt financing is always an alternative, user fees, and pay-as-you-go capital as well.”

Other projects identified in the five-year plan include conversion of street lighting to LED, upgrades to the city’s fiber optic loop, garage expansion, a number of new trucks for the solid waste department, a recycling center equipment upgrade, and a potential wastewater treatment plant expansion depending on future demand by FCC and other customers.

In January, the plant exceeded its 4 million gallon per day capacity due to rainfall.

“Right now, based on the information we’ve had from the industrial park, we don’t feel like their flows are going to be what they had predicted they were going to be, so hopefully the wastewater treatment plant expansion won’t be needed as soon as we thought, but we still don’t know,” said treatment plant director Robert Ellis. “A potential new client could come in out there, anything could happen.”

The final year of the plan, 2021, involves the highest level of projected capital spending in most departments — including $12 million in the water and sewer fund — due to uncertainty regarding when improvements will be necessary.

“The St. Andrews MBA program was interviewing department heads and they knew it was a need but the departments didn’t know if it needed to be a three- or four-year need or if it could be a year eight or nine need, but we know it was there so we just stuck it on the last year,” said City Manager Charles Nichols. “We just wanted to have it noted.”

Council member J.D. Willis suggested that, in the case of significant expenditures forecasted years in advance, the city begin setting aside funds immediately.

“This is something that’s going to happen, and we are guessing four years out but it might not even be four years,” Willis said regarding the new electric substation. “I just think we’d be better off to set aside some funds and let it just continue to build rather than having all of it in one year.”

Also on Monday:

— Council member Curtis Leak suggested that the city reevaluate the manpower needs of all departments.

— Mayor Matthew Block proposed that council consider forming recreation and litter committees.

— Council member Dee Hammond suggested that the city implement an academy to familiarize city residents with the various departments.

— Council discussed the pros and cons of continuing to hold a monthly agenda meeting the week prior to its regular meeting.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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