Last updated: March 13. 2014 3:50PM -
By - mmurphy@civitasmedia.com

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LAURINBURG — Given a drafted agreement from the Scotland County Board of Commissioners this week detailing each entity’s level of support to the new emergency call center under construction on West Boulevard, members of the Laurinburg City Council said during their Tuesday agenda meeting that they are being asked to spend more than expected.

“I definitely expressed my marching orders, given to me by council, that we wanted our budget to stay flat with what we currently expend,” City Manager Charles Nichols said of his meetings with the county.

Currently, the city spends about $204,000 annually on emergency dispatch staff. As written, the memorandum of understanding draws 34 percent of the center’s total personnel costs from city funding, a figure the council feels could get out of hand.

In addition to a director, with a salary of $51,000 to $72,000, and 12 dispatchers — four of whom would be drawn from current city staff — the center may also hire an assistant director and additional part time dispatchers.

“They also thought the city should contribute a third of the director and we also found out this past meeting that there are talks of possibly up to 12 part time staff that would be needed to fill the center,” Nichols said. “In my mind, that opens up down the line, if they wanted to add staff, that locks the city in.”

According to city finance director Cindy Carpenter, funding 34 percent of the center’s projected personnel costs would likely run the city about $247,000. Some of the cost increase stems from higher salaries for existing dispatchers, who will require additional training to dispatch for the fire department and Scotland County Sheriff’s Office as well as the police department.

“The responsibilities are going to increase tremendously,” said police chief Darwin Williams. “You’re coming from your original department and now you have to learn the county and the fire department. Their responsibilities are going to change so their pay is going to have to change some, that’s the reality of it.”

Mayor Tommy Parker suggested that the city agree to fund the lesser of 34 percent or $204,000, adjusting the latter for salary adjustments and inflation.

“We were led to believe, to some degree, that there was not going to be a cost increase,” he saidl “There wasn’t necessarily going to be a cost savings, but it looks like to me that you’re opening Pandora’s Box up here.”

At the suggestion of council member J.D. Willis, the city is expected to arrange a second joint meeting between the city council and county commissioners.

“It would be helpful, I think, if we could have some projection of what the salary, what the 34 percent would be,” said council member Drew Williamson. “If it’s double that ($204,000), that’s entirely one thing. If it’s a little bit more … the open-ended thing is a concern.”

In other business on Tuesday, council:

— Heard an update from Williams on the police department’s new programs, including liaison with families of homicide victims, gang task force, and youth summer program, and efforts to bring the department to a full staff.

— Authorized planning staff to apply for a $40,000 Community Transformation Project grant to update the city’s land use plan, which has beein in place since 1989.

— Extended utility payment deadlines to the fifth of each monthfor all customers, with no holds or extensions available. Previously, the deadline was the 26th, with two holds per year available extending the utility cutoff date to the third of the following month.

— Added to next week’s regular meeting agenda approval of transferring city employees’ accrued state sick leave from prior public employers for employees’ use while employed by the city.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.

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