The main issue at the ‘ancient’ City Hall continues to be Laurinburg City Council’s controversial New City Hall project.
At last week’s City Council meeting, the Laurinburg City Council received quite an earful from several well-respected citizens, all of whom expressed their strong opposition to a new City Hall and most of whom expressed even stronger disappointment and exasperation with City Council members for continuing on with this project in spite of widespread citizen opposition. I, too, am strongly opposed to this project, and the reasons are many.
First and foremost, is the unanswered question of exactly where the $5.5 million is going to come from? City Council has said it will build without raising taxes. So, therefore, the money has to come from utilities, meaning the light bills and water bills. There is no other stream of money. It is no coincidence that last July, City Council raised the water bill 35 percent on all city households and later that month signed a $500,000 contract with Charlotte architects to start the City Hall Project.
It does not take a rocket scientist to connect the dots. City Council would likely deny that there is any connection between the skyrocketing utility bills and the new City Hall,but since council will not say where the money is going to come from, we are left assume that it must be from the increase in the utility bills.
Secondly, there is no compelling need for a new City Hall. Certainly there is no urgent need for one. If citizens are puzzled why City Council is in a rush to knock down the current City Hall and build a new $5.5 million new one that will be twice the size, I don’t blame them. City Council first tried to make the case that it was a ‘space needs issue’. But when it was pointed out that the city staff is smaller now than ever before, and the city is not growing, City Council changed the reason why a new City Hall was needed, saying that the current City Hall building has safety issues. When it was pointed out that the building passed OSHA inspection in 2013, City Council floated yet another reason; that the current building was too expensive to renovate. As yet City Council still has not responded to repeated questioning about why, in 2013, a widely respected architectural firm from Rocky Mount (a firm that actually does renovations, unlike the current architects from Charlotte, who only build new ones) estimated the cost of renovating the current building at only $1 million. Therefore, as of today, City Council still has not provided to the citizens any valid reason for rushing to demolish the current functional building to build a new $ 5.5 million one. As has been pointed out, a new City Hall is a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’, and Laurinburg taxpayers are in no mood to pay for unnecessary $5.5 million ‘wants’.
Lastly, many citizens feel there is a need for a Community Center/Recreation Center. If City Council goes forward with a $5.5 million City Hall, it would effectively crush any possibility of a Recreation Center in Laurinburg for years to come. Although citizens do disagree on the need for a new Recreation Center, there is no disagreement among the thousands of citizens I have heard from regarding a New City Hall. They don’t want one.
In closing, I have been reading up on what my proper role is, as mayor, in this City Hall mess. At our recent City Council Retreat, I promised council I would research this. The mayor’s role, according to UNC expert Vaughn Upshaw, is to manage the meetings, work with the media, and work with the city mManager to develop the monthly agenda. However, according to Ms. Upshaw, the mayor’s role is also to “provide leadership” and “to be an independent thinker who can disagree with the council”, and, most importantly, to “involve the community in creating a vision and mission for the city.” That is what I intend to do. It is my considered opinion, that citizens and businesses of Laurinburg, current or future, would prefer a Mayor who publically calls upon City Council to listen to the citizens, rather than a Mayor who ignores public opinion. If City Council is concerned about the appearance of fighting between council and mayor, all they have to do is have an open and honest discussion with the public to explain why and how they are going to demolish City Hall and build a new one that is twice the size and costs $5.5 million.
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He plans to write a monthly column on the city and municipal issues.