Last updated: August 26. 2014 7:09AM - 851 Views
By J.L. Pate jpate@civitasmedia.com

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LAURINBURG – What will become of one of downtown’s prime locations — the former Branch’s Car Care property and Exxon station at the corner of Main and Church streets — remains in limbo after a Monday retreat by the Laurinburg City Council.

City Manager Charles Nichols said preliminary estimates indicate it will cost just over $100,000 to clear the site for any future use; $50,000 to demolish and remove concrete and brick debris, and about $51,000 to remove a single underground gasoline storage tank from the site.

These cost estimates do not include the potential cost of treating and/or removing any contaminated soil that may be underneath the lot’s surface.

Among other matters discussed by the council, members endorsed further study on the plan to locate a third, unmanned fire station behind the water tower on city property at McColl Road and Purcell Street, needed to meet state-mandated distance requirements. A new fire truck would also be purchased for $480,000.

Council members also directed city staff to further study possible financing options for the construction of a new city hall. A feasibility study completed last year, which City Manager Charles Nichols said was “not very detailed,’’ projected a cost of about $5 million, with much of that probably funded by a federal loan at 4 percent interest spanning 40 years.

Concerning the former gas station and auto repair business, Nichols said he just had his first meeting on the property a week ago that included the county manager, the property owner and others city officials, when “we looked at different options’’ for the property.

One option mentioned, he confirmed in the meeting, is its possible use as a park or other type of green space, but several hurdles remain before that decision can be considered, he said.

He added that the county has indicated it could devote up to half of its $30,000 fund to demolish buildings.

The property owner has indicated a willingness to donate the property to the city if BB&T would waive a lien it holds on the property, Nichols said, adding that he thought the county might waive its tipping fee at the landfill for disposal of the demolition debris.

In a voice vote, the council was unanimous in directing the city staff to “look at the numbers,’’ especially the potential cost of soil removal, if that is required.

On the proposed building of a third fire house in the city, Laurinburg Fire Chief Randy Gibson said it is needed to meet requirements pertaining to response times and premium rates for fire insurance. The new station would be 2.9 miles from the city’s current south station. The city already owns the land.

Gibson said Scotland County has already approved $300,000 towards the purchase of a new pumper truck. The city would need to come up with the balance, although the new truck would belong to the county because it paid most of the cost.

Gibson said the city actually owns only two pieces of fire-fighting equipment right now: a brush truck and a ladder truck that takes up two spaces inside the North Laurinburg fire station.

He stressed that city and county fire fighters always support each other with men and equipment, and that city trucks respond to county fire calls and vice versa.

“All we are asking for tonight from the city is for the use of the land,’’ Gibson said. “The city would own the building,’’ which he said is in a preliminary design stage by Anderson Engineering in Lumberton. If approved, the building would be of manufactured metal with two bays, an office and a restroom.

In other matters, the council voted to wait on any further action on electric rate adjustments until North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy complete Duke’s purchase of the power agency’s generating assets for $1.2 billion, expected to close by July 1.

The transaction is expected to eventually lower wholesale electric rates for customers in Laurinburg , Red Springs, Lumberton and 29 other municipalities in eastern North Carolina, but the city manager repeated his warning that while wholesale rates are expected to drop, how those rates will translate into retail charges remains to be seen. Because each municipality owns shares of varying sizes, and thus varying degrees of the agency’s debt, any rate reduction realized by Laurinburg customers could prove vastly different than any changes in Lumberton or Red Springs, Nichols said.

In another matter, the council directed the city’s human resources director, Betty Galloway, to explore the possibility of granting city employees up to three days a year for bereavement leave, providing the deceased is an immediate family member. The city has no bereavement policy at present and employees must take personal leave or sick leave if an immediate family member dies.

And the city manager advised the council that he will began to formulate a capital improvement plan (CIP) for the city; a five-year and a 10-year plan. He added that its final determination will “depend on how we go forward with the new city hall proposal.’’

J.L. Pate can be reached at 910-506-3171.

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