By a 3-2 vote Monday night, the Spring Lake Board of Aldermen adopted an extension agreement among Cumberland County municipalities to delay implementation of a sales tax distribution method for a year.
The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners has proposed changing 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 in revenue a year.
With the property value method, the town would lose $1.4 million in annual sales tax revenue.
Mayor Kia Anthony said that if all municipalities in the county do not sign the one-year extension, the county commissioners will vote on the ad valorem distribution method in April without a delay.
“If we don’t sign this extension, they are going to go ahead and approve the switch this year,” said Anthony.
The current agreement, which has been in effect since 2003, expires June 30.
Anthony said the alternative would not allow any time to budget for the major loss in revenue for the town, which has been through two 500-year floods, a global pandemic, and embezzlement and mismanagement of funds in recent years. She said she forwarded the agreement to the board as soon as she received it Saturday morning.
Mayor Pro Tem Robin Chadwick and Alderwomen Sona Cooper and Adrian Thompson voted in favor of the extension. Aldermen Raul Palacios and Marvin Lackman voted against it.
“This is a travesty. This needs to be scrapped. This needs to be reworked. This is not a good deal for Spring Lake,” said Lackman. “We are looking at giving away $1.4 million every year. My fiduciary responsibility will not allow me to go along with this. Mayor, I am not in agreement with signing. We need to tell the commissioners unless they can tell us what this is going for or how this can benefit the residents of Spring Lake, I am a firm no.”
Anthony said the matter it was out of the board’s hands.
“It is terrible for us,” she said. “We are getting the short end of the stick. But the decision is not in our hands; it’s in the hands of the county.”
She said a vote by the county board is not definite but she believes it will happen.
Cooper said the town could have prepared for the change.
Palacios also voted against the extension.
“The fact that we are on track to lose $1.4 million of Spring Lake finances hurts and especially hurts because of the mismanagement that has happened in this town,” he said. “It’s not the fault of this board or the county, but we are not prepared. At the same time, we are in a hostage negotiation. We are at a standoff. They are saying you either approve this agreement or we are going to act in March to strip that money away.
“This is a big deal,” Palacios added. “I want to send a message that Spring Lake is not ready for this, to lose this money, yet.”
Cooper made the motion to approve the extension, and Chadwick seconded it.
In other business, the board reviewed ordinances that will address donation boxes in the town limits and restrict semi-trailer trucks on residential roads. Past discussion centered on the litter and clutter around donation boxes and the fact that residential streets were not constructed to support heavy vehicles.
“We’ve heard complaints from residents repeatedly,” said Anthony.
Lackman said big trucks have damaged streets and cost the town money.
“You might not experience the potholes today or tomorrow, but over the next several years, it will cost the taxpayers to redo these roads,” said Lackman.
Cooper agreed that the town must take care of its streets.
“We don’t have an endless supply of money,” said Cooper.
The ordinances passed by consensus and will be presented at the board’s meeting in March.
The board was also given an update on Hillside Cemetery on Chapel Hill Road, where the road caved in on Bragg Boulevard/N.C. 87.
Anthony said that recent road work and the need for an easement prompted the town to look into ownership and maintenance of the cemetery, an issue that has been unresolved for years.
She said that former Mayor Ethel Clark had inappropriately taken control of the land and transferred ownership to Williams Chapel Church and Bethel AME Zion Church, both in Spring Lake. Clark died in 2018.
She said the town should never have gotten involved in the maintenance or transfer of authority on the property.
“I was contacted by a trustee from Williams Chapel saying they were no longer going to take care of the cemetery and they were passing responsibility back to the town of Spring Lake,” said Anthony.
Anthony said that town administrators had researched deeds and that maintenance of the cemetery is up to the churches.
She suggested that the county has funding for historic sites that could be used if the cemetery qualifies as a historic landmark.
The board also spent 45 minutes in closed session to discuss matters of attorney-client privilege and personnel.
Palacios said the board has narrowed the list of candidates for town manager from 11 applicants to four, but those names would remain confidential.
He said the North Carolina League of Municipalities had advised the board to not disclose the names, but that stance may change as finalists are chosen.