Report: Debt OK for Laurinburg City Hall

By Terri Ferguson Smith - [email protected]

LAURINBURG —A financial consultant said Laurinburg is capable of borrowing the money needed to build a nearly $11 million municipal building.

But critics said just because the city can, does not mean it should.

Ted Cole of the consulting firm Davenport and Company, told the Laurinburg City Council on Tuesday that Laurinburg has just over $300,000 in taxpayer supported debt and about $10 million in utility debt. Cole’s firm was hired by the city to help determine if it could afford to build a new City Hall.

According to the report, Laurinburg is in a “very strong” position to borrow the money needed to construct a facility that at last estimates would cost between $10.3 million and $10.8 million to house all city departments.

“I don’t think that debt cap is a problem for you,” Cole said before adding “it doesn’t mean you should take on debt.”

Mayor Matthew Block, who has opposed the project, said the new building would max out the city’s debt limit in one project. The mayor said the massive investment would prevent the city from decreasing taxes and electric and water rates. The city’s property tax rate is 40 cents per $100 valuation. Block said the city could drop the tax rate by about nine cents if it decided to forgo the new building.

“It would cost about $600,000 a year to service the debt to borrow,” Block said. ” So if we didn’t spend the $600,000 on that, the tax rate could come down.”

Block, who campaigned on the need for more recreation, said the project would quash that idea.

“It would make it very, very difficult, if not impossible, to finance a $2 million or $3 million recreation community center,” Block said. “Committing all our debt capacity to this one project would basically take a recreation community center off the table for the foreseeable future.”

On Wednesday, Council member Curtis Leak, said he was still determined to move forward with the project despite the objections he heard from residents on Tuesday. He reiterated earlier statements — saying that the city is not in the recreation business.

“If they want recreation, why don’t they ask the county,” Leak said of supporters of a rec center.

Block said he did ask the county, but has not gotten anywhere.

“I think that’s what Councilman Leak has been saying for 20 years,” Block said. “The county does not understand the city’s recreation needs, otherwise they wouldn’t be closing all the neighborhood parks.”

The council took no action on the report.

Council member Mary Jo Adams said the council needed more time “to digest” the report. Adams declined to answer other questions.

Other business

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members approved a request from the Scotland County Arts Council for $7,500. Councilmen Mary Jo Adams, Dee Hammond, and Andrew Williamson voted in favor of the funding request; Councilman Curtis Leak and Councilman J.D. Willis voted against.

In other business, council postponed a public hearing for a conditional use permit for a ground mounted solar array on nearly 90 acres of land at U.S. 15-401 Bypass. It will be rescheduled for next month when representatives of Strata Solar Development can be present.

The council also authorized the city manager to sign an agreement with NC 811, which requires NC 811 to notify the city of any excavation near the city or county’s utility lines to prevent damage to underground power lines and other utility lines.

The council also approved a request to increase tuition assistance for full time employees from $500 a year to $1,000 a year.

Police Chief Darwin “Duke” Williams gave an update about the police department’s community outreach programs to city council members. He also introduced members of the department’s Explorer Post.

By Terri Ferguson Smith

[email protected]

Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.

Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.

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