Powellsville rebounds

Published 9:47 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

POWELLSVILLE – For the second straight town meeting, Powellsville’s Board of Commissioners had good news for its citizens.

Planned adjustments in the town’s General Fund and more in its Enterprise Fund would find savings to the town that total nearly $24,000.

“We have to decide on when we can amend the budget with the changes we have made,” announced Commissioner Carlyle Hoggard. “We will announce like we did the last time when we will amend the budget and the public is invited to attend.”

Hoggard said no other town business will be discussed when the meeting on budget adjustments takes place.

Some of the proposed changes include: cancelling the town’s credit card service and returning to a strictly cash and check only policy for payment of town services; cutting the town’s office supply budget line item by 80 percent; cancelling the town’s fax machine and postage machine service; eliminating the salaries of several adjunct duties of Mayor Thomas Asbell, including Finance Officer, Maintenance Supervisor, and Water Supervisor; the mayor’s cell phone; and, restructuring of utilities for the town office and employee payroll taxes.

In a handout, Hoggard said those cuts, if approved, would total a savings of $11,286.50 for the General Fund and $12,693.33 for the Enterprise Fund for a total of $23,979.83.

A group of some 25 townspeople attended the Tuesday meeting and during public comments, one resident voiced concern on the status of Mayor Thomas Asbell, unclear if his resignation – called for by the Board back in August – had taken place.

“Under the law an elected official can’t be removed by the Board,” explained Town Attorney Ernie Carter. “They have to either resign or have a recall election. He can be the Mayor, (but) the Council has already voted to remove him from the other duties he was doing; he can serve (as Mayor) even though he is not here.”

Asbell did not attend the August meeting where the Commissioners first called for his resignation; and, as of Tuesday, he still had not complied with their request.

“He operates on what the Council votes,” Carter continued. “Like the President, he’s supposed to follow what the legislature passes. Some of the questions raised were the actions he was taking were not approved by the Board; they were just made by decisions without consulting with the Board or what they voted on at meetings. That was some of the issues.”

“He has no executive power,” Hoggard added. “He has the title and the Mayor Pro Tem is (now) serving in his place.”

Asbell still has received his annual Mayor’s salary, which Board Clerk Jennifer Evans and Bookkeeper Melissa Beddard say was $720, paid at the beginning of the year.

“The law in North Carolina says you can’t take that from him,” said Carter.

Mayor Pro Tem James Peele said an investigation into the town’s finances requested by the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office and executed by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) was still ongoing, but neither he, nor any of the other Commissioners could comment on its status.

The Board also said it has made an assessment of citizens’ water accounts – an increase of which in the proposed 2016-17 town budget in June caused outrage among residents. They are asking citizens to bring those accounts up to date.

“This service is not free for anyone,” said Peele. “We all have to share in this responsibility. It’s not fair for one-third of the town to pay for all the (water/sewer) services with others delinquent.”

Hoggard, in his new duties as Finance Officer, said the town would begin turn-off procedures if accounts are not brought up to date.

“We’re going to be compassionate, but we must get the (delinquent) accounts brought to within a reasonable state,” Hoggard maintained. “The system operates and supports itself when everybody participates and pays their utility bill.”

Hoggard said late fees would be assessed after the 21st of each month with no exceptions.

One bit of cost-saving business was voted on by the Commissioners: the termination of the town’s printer/copier financing agreement with vendor Toshiba and financier U.S. Bank. The Commissioners say they never approved this agreement.

An agreement on the office machine was signed by Asbell in October 2015 for 60 monthly payments of $161.77. Hoggard made a motion, seconded by Commissioner J.T. Watford, to return the equipment to the vendor and recover any payments previously made retroactive to the date of the first payment. The motion passed unanimously and Carter was advised to inform both of the Board’s wishes.

On a lighter note, sealed bids were taken for a golf cart owned by the town; the winning bid ($396) was made by Phillip Whitt, owner of Good News Auto Parts. Whitt is now responsible for removing it from the town maintenance yard on Wynns Street.

The Commissioners told the townspeople that an assessment of the town water’s chlorine barn showed that the PVS pipe will need to be replaced with Schedule 80 pipe and that Kirk Rogers and Marty Stevenson of the Town of Ahoskie’s Public Works Department were assisting in helping the town through the situation.

The Commissioners also said the town’s Community Building on West Main Street has several rentals planned for September and they encourage continued sign-ups for baby showers, family reunions, and the like; the town’s gasoline budget was operating with a surplus; street clean-up in the town would continue; and, resumes have been received for the post of town Office Clerk, who – once hired – will announce when the next budget amendment meeting will be held.

Peele said the town is in compliance with US Department of Agriculture (ISDA) loans for which the town and townspeople might qualify. Carter did caution, however, that the town has no control over whom USDA designates for loans, or how these loans are regulated.

The meeting ended with compliments being shown to the Commissioners for their actions by those who were in attendance.

“Overall, I think you’ve done well,” one resident said.