Voices heard

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, July 19, 2016

POWELLSVILLE – Two weeks ago they came to express their concerns. On Monday here, they saw democracy fulfilled.

The Powellsville Town Council voted unanimously to amend the town’s budget for 2016-17. This comes after about 30 town residents, attending the Council’s July 5 meeting, complained of utility fee rate hikes earmarked in the original budget.

At their June 27 meeting, the Council approved their 2016-17 fiscal budget. The General Fund budget called for a nine-cent property tax increase from 24 cents to 33 cents and a reduction of the town’s trash pick-up from weekly to twice monthly.

Within the town’s original Enterprise Fund budget was a water rate increase from $20 to $30 a month and a sewer rate increase from $32 to $45 monthly for in-town customers.

Water and sewer rates for customers who reside outside the Powellsville town limits and use those utilities would also be higher; from $65 to $88 a month.

Notices of the rate increases were placed on residents’ doorsteps prior to July 4 weekend, prompting much of the outrage.

Though not as large in number, a smaller group of residents attended Monday’s special called meeting.

“I think you’ll be pleased that a bit of a change has been made from the last meeting to this one,” said Mayor Thomas Asbell. “As promised by the Board, I think what would be of interest to the citizens is there has been a reduction in fees.”

The Board made the adjustments in their capital outlay expenditures. The sewer rate for all customers – both within the town limits as well as those serviced by the town beyond those borders – will increase, but only by seven dollars instead of $15. The second significant change was the Council also voted to return to weekly garbage pick-ups, instead of every other week.

“We did all that in about 15 minutes,” said Councilman Carlyle Hoggard. “I said in the earlier meeting that the budget could be amended more than once, and we did exactly that; we did the best we could with what we had to work with.”

Hoggard praised Powellsville’s drinking water, calling it some of the purest in all of eastern North Carolina, based on a survey.

“You have unlimited water at $30 a month if you live in town,” he continued. “That’s the best we can do.”

Hoggard said the need for the increases is because Powellsville is facing a fiscal crisis; but he said the Council is pledged to manage that and return to town financially to solid footing.

Councilman James Peele stated that Council was interested in what the citizens had to say.

Alfreida Jordan scolded the Council – at times becoming emotional – for not making copies of the original, and the revised, budgets available for citizens to read.

“When I came in here to pay my bill I should have seen the budget,” Jordan observed. “(If) the Board could put this notice in everybody’s door to say what the new rates were going to be, why weren’t the citizens – taxpayers – been given a notice to do the new revised budget. I don’t have a problem with the (increase); my thing is why we couldn’t have been notified.”

Evelyn Howard, a resident, asked the Board why there had been a nine-cent property tax increase.

“The general expenditures of the town are why it was necessary,” explained Peele. “As far as I know, we haven’t had a tax increase since I’ve been on the Board, now in my seventh year. As we’re trying to serve our citizens in a better way, then the price of those services gets higher; everything has gone up.”

Peele and Hoggard agreed there’s a possibility property taxes in the town could drop next year.

“We’re looking at this every way we can,” Hoggard said.

The Council recited a number of increases the town has had to sustain, and how that has affected the town’s capital outlay.

“General utilities and maintenance is what it amounts to,” Peele acknowledged.

The Councilmen pledged more transparency with the citizens.

When informed the addition of 64 new residences to the town’s sewer system, Mattie Watford asked why the additional customers didn’t cause fees to decrease instead of increasing. The Councilmen and Asbell agreed that should have been the case, but also point to changes that needed to be made for the benefit of the town.

“When you are a small community and you expose your needs, you are vulnerable,” Asbell said. “This is where we are now, trying to get into the 21st century, working hard to get the things other (communities) have. But when in that position, others see a chance to advance on their part without any effort. These are the things little towns have to fight. We are all in this together; everybody’s a neighbor.”

There was an inquiry about water meters and Asbell said a study into an application for funding for meters showed them (meters) to be unreliable, inaccurate, non-functioning and/or outdated. In addition, infrastructure funding – state or federal – does not allow for new meters.

“You have to do your part as a citizen,” Asbell said. “We can’t handle all your expectations. Don’t look for things to complain about; if you have issues talk about them.”

Some of the residents said they would be more diligent in bringing their issues to the Council.

Following the public comments, the Council voted on the amendments to the town budget, primarily the reduction in payments, and it passed without objection.

CORRECTION: In the story about the Powellsville utility rates on July 7, one person who commented was identified as Modesta Stanley; the lady’s correct first name is Maudesther.