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Spring Lake aldermen say contracted positions adding to town’s expenditures

Changes resulted from state agency stepping in to oversee finances


SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen considered the difference between contracted positions and town-eliminated positions at its meeting on Monday night.

Human Resources Director Terry Hock said seven positions that were cut include a code enforcement officer, inspections supervisor, fire battalion chief, police lieutenant, meter reader, finance director and accounts payable clerk.

“The battalion chief was promoted to the assistant fire chief, and those duties were combined. We lost a meter reader in 2021, and up to that point we went from three full-time meter readers to two. That created a big problem because they were already overworked. We started seeing increased absences,” said Hock.

He said the meter reader jobs are small expenses at $28,000 and the town currently has two full-time readers and two part-time ones.

The board then discussed eliminated positions that are now filled by contracted staff.

“The total saved from the (town-eliminated) positions is $536,896. However, that figure is misleading because some of the positions are contracted out, such as the code enforcement officer and the building inspector,” said Hock.

Mayor Kia Anthony said the building inspector job also is contracted at $73 an hour.

“We did not set this schedule or these prices, so I want to go on record that we cut the inspector position but are now paying $73 an hour for contracting one,” said Anthony.

Interim Town Manager Jason Williams, who also serves as the town’s fire chief, said the contracted inspector works in town twice a week, but only after 4 p.m.

Alderwoman Sona Cooper said the town is behind on business inspections because the contractor is not available to businesses for enough time.

Anthony said that contracted positions, including financial staff, are filled by the state Local Government Commission, which took over the town’s finances in October 2021 amid concerns about budget deficits, fiscal disarray and possible missing money.

Cooper said contractor pay could add up to more than the eliminated salaries.

“We’ve paid the contracted finance staff $339,676, and we are not even at the end of the year yet. We are supposed to be a distressed community,” said Cooper.

Cooper also said the finance positions are being contracted at $100, $75 and $65 an hour.

“Again, as Alderwoman Cooper said, we are a financially distressed community and we are paying exorbitant amounts for positions that were filled, or contracted, by the LGC. It’s mind-boggling,” said Anthony.

Hock said that three contractors are working on accounts payable.

“It seems like some waste to me there,” said Hock.

Anthony said the town is paying about $85,000 a month on contracted finance staffers.

That figure includes invoices from Greg Isley CPA, the firm that was hired for the town audit.

“Outside the hourly wages, we are also paying for mileage, meals, hotel expenses for Greg Isley,” said Alderman Raul Palacios.

Palacios said the town-appointed audit committee that he serves on first met to address some of the financial problems and since then has shifted to the town budget.

“The purpose of us meeting now is to look over the budget and scrutinize it. We need to see where the town is at and where we can save money so we can restore our savings balance,” said Palacios.

“It looks like money is being funneled out of department budgets to pay Greg Isley. That’s more information we are needing from David Erwin and the LGC,” said Palacios.

Erwin, the accounting and financial management adviser for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, serves as the town’s finance director.

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Birthday celebration

In other business, the board discussed Spring Lake’s 72nd birthday on April 9, which will be celebrated in the recreation center.

It also reviewed the draft of a mission, vision and strategic plan that the board put together at a retreat on Feb. 18.

Anthony asked for community input on the plan, which reads as follows:

“Mission: The town of Spring Lake is a collaborative community, historically connected to its military roots. Joined by a commitment to prosperity, our diverse citizenry positively supports one another by living lives anchored in transparency, acceptance, and personal responsibility.

“Vision: A modern community full of a hometown feel, Spring Lake is a vibrant place where robust economic opportunity and quality of life flow freely in a safe and aesthetically pleasing natural environment.”

The board also discussed the meeting structure it had agreed to last July.

Palacios said the board agreed to separate monthly meetings into a regular meeting for actionable business and a work session to discuss presentations or actionable items.

“It didn’t seem like long after that we reverted to combining the two, so I wanted to bring it before the board again to see if we needed to revisit it. Our time is valuable, and the work of the town is necessary. So if we had that structure, it would save time and also prepare for these meetings a little better,” said Palacios.

He also asked if there is a vetting process for presentations.

“We get bombarded with presentations, and everyone wants to come. We are getting attention, which is great because we lack a lot of resources,” said Anthony.

Cooper and Lackman said they agree with Palacios on the need to separate the two meetings and more scrutiny on presentations before they are put on the agenda.

Anthony said that tailoring work sessions and bringing back the agenda prep meetings might help the board further vet the lengthy presentations.

Anthony also encouraged the public to attend the Mayors Coalition meeting at 8 a.m. March 31 in the Grady Howard conference room of Spring Lake Town Hall. The discussion will include the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners’ proposal to change the sales tax collection method from per capita, or a flat rate, to ad valorem, or based on property value. The switch would cost each municipality in the county tens of thousands to several million dollars a year.

The current agreement, which has been in effect since 2003, expires June 30.

The Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 on Feb. 27 to adopt an extension agreement among Cumberland County municipalities to delay the implementation of a sales tax distribution method for a year.

Mayor Pro Tem Robin Chadwick and board members Cooper and Adrian Thompson voted in favor of the extension. Aldermen Palacios and Lackman voted against it.

With the property value method, the town would lose $1.4 million in annual sales tax revenue.

The board also went into closed session citing matters of attorney-client privilege and personnel. It spent 15 minutes in closed session with no action taken on its return to open session.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, Local Government Commission