Maxton commissioners OK $3.5 million budget that contains COLA increase

The Robesonian
The Robesonian
The Maxton Board of Commissioners approved a $3.5 million budget during a special called meeting held Thursday. The budget, which is for the 2021-22 fiscal year, will go into effect July 1.

MAXTON — The Board of Commissioners here approved a $3.5 million budget for fiscal year 2021-22 on Thursday during a special called meeting and agreed to move forward with raising the town’s water and sewer fees.

The $3,599,375 spending plan, which goes into effect July 1, leaves the property tax rate at 80 cents per $100 of property value. That means the owner of the $100,000 home would pay $800 a year in property taxes. The budget also includes a 2.5% cost-of-living adjustment increase for town employees.

The budget is made up of a $2,598,400 General Fund balance, with $1,201,680 going toward public safety, $756,165 to administration and $554,955 to public works. The combined water and sewers funds total $888,475, and the Powell Bill appropriation is $112,500.

Two adjustments were made to the budget before the spending plan was approved Thursday.

The first was to use $7,334 of the town’s contingency funds to pay for one-stop early voting in Robeson and Scotland counties. Maxton is a dual-county municipality with a small portion of the town sitting in Scotland County and the rest in Robeson County.

Town leaders were considering opting out of early voting in Scotland County, but they were told by the North Carolina State Board of Elections the town would have to either open early voting in both counties or neither, according to Maxton Town Manager Angela Pitchford.

The cost of one-stop early voting for Scotland County would be $6,000, while the Robeson County price tag is $1,334.

“The numbers don’t add up to me,” Mayor Paul Davis said. “That don’t make any sense to me.”

About 50 of Maxton’s residents in Scotland County voted in the 2020 election, way fewer than the number of town residents in Robeson County who voted, Davis said.

“That’s not, to me, fair,” Commissioner Elizabeth Gilmore said.

The commissioners still agreed to move forward with early voting so as not to suppress the vote.

“If we don’t do it, that’s suppression of our rights,” Gilmore said.

Davis and Commissioner Paul McDowell did call for town administration to contact the State Board of Elections to clarify how the costs are tallied up.

It was decided Thursday that contingency funds will be used to increase the Robeson County Public Library’s yearly allocation from $15,050 to $17,000 to assist with the cost of daily operations. The decision was made after hearing a presentation from RCPL Director Katie Fountain and Cynthia Lester, manger of the Gilbert Patterson Library in Maxton.

“We are truly making great steps to improve library services to support your citizens, and we need additional funding … Our costs have not stayed stagnant over the last five years, but we’ve tried to keep up the best we can with the same amount of funding. ” Fountain said during her presentation.

Fountain also asked the town to donate back the $5,000 residents gave Gilbert Patterson Library’s governing board when it was in operation to assist with personnel costs for the current fiscal year. The library board gave the money to the town when the board was abolished. Fountain said the library also needs money for library beautification in the upcoming fiscal year.

The commissioners denied the request and suggested the library seek grant funding.

The town abolished the Library Board in May 2020 in order to give full operational control to the county system. After the board was abolished, all money raised by the board was given to the town.

Fountain still thanked the board for the increase in annual allotted funds.

“We’re very happy,” she said.

Also Thursday, the commissioners voted to move forward with increasing the town’s water and sewer rates by 5% to make the town more competitive when applying for state grants that would fund improvements to the town’s water and sewer infrastructure.

“We’re at a crossroads where even though we don’t like to raise rates, we’re probably going to have to do this,” Davis said.

The town was considering either a 3% or 5% increase in rates.

“I feel that at this point, so we don’t have to come back and review this again, that we need to go ahead and do the 5%,” Gilmore said. “If we use the 3% and find out that our finances are not appropriate, then we’re going to have to come back to our citizens and say we need to find an increase.”

“Technically, it should be more than 5%,” Commissioner Victor Womack said.

The current residential water rate is $16.16 for the first 2,500 gallons used, and the sewer is $17.77. A 5% increase would raise the water rate to $16.97 for the first 2,500 gallons, and the sewer rate to $18.65.

The rate change will not be formally decided on until the board schedules a public hearing on the matter.

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