LAURINBURG — Protecting the financial future of the city was foremost on the minds of residents who objected Tuesday night to the possibility that the Laurinburg City Council might build a new municipal building.
James Garby Jr., Frank Evans and Michael Schmidt had asked to speak during the meeting and used the opportunity to urge council members to drop the proposed construction that could cost more than $10.3 million. The council chamber was filled with residents opposed to the project. The group met in the parking lot outside City Hall before the meeting to pass out t-shirts printed with the words: “no new city hall.”
Garby questioned the need for a new City Hall since the number of city employees has declined.
“Why do we need extra space if we’re not growing?” he said.
Garby said that the city should remodel its current City Hall to create more office space and hold council meetings at the A.E. Gibson building. He added that council should look for other cost saving solutions.
Garby added that the city should conduct an efficiency study to determine the most cost-effective way to solve the city’s space needs.
Laurinburg has spent approximately $200,000 to develop a plan for a new City Hall and police department, but has not voted to proceed with the project.
Evans said that he is concerned that the city has not demonstrated a need for a new building.
“We’ve heard nothing from you,” Evans said. “At least tell us why you need it.”
Evans said Laurinburg should follow the example of city leaders in in Benton, Illinois, a town of 8,000 residents, that renovated an old school into a new city hall for $1.22 million. According to Evans, that city built the new building with a 92 percent approval rate.
Garby said a petition to stop construction of a new City Hall has more than 3,000 signatures.
Schmidt, an attorney who this week sent a proposed bill to state Sen. Tom McInnis to stop unnecessary and costly taxpayer-funded projects, implored the council to think of the future before borrowing money.
“Debt is easy to get into. Lenders make it easy but getting out of debt is difficult,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want our children and grandchildren under financial bondage for a building we don’t need.”
Council member Curtis Leak asked residents how the city should proceed.
“What do you want us to build?” Leak said. “You’ve been telling us what we should not do, but what do want us to do?”
Garby assured council that, unlike some opponents, he does not believe “anything under the table” is pushing council to move forward with the project.
“I appreciate that you are doing what you think is best,” Garby said.
Also on Tuesday, council gave the go-ahead for a solar farm in a 4-1 vote. The 90-acre farm is planned for U.S. 15-401/501 bypass.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.