BY JOHN H. WALKER
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
After a heated budget discussion that lasted about 90 minutes and saw two council members make repeated requests to both town manager Alan Thornton and finance director Karla McCall to include additional information in the document, members of the Tarboro Town Council approved the 2013-2014 FY budget by a 7-1 vote. Ward 8 council member Garland Shepheard voted “no.”
The budget, of $44,009,227, represents a decrease of slightly more than $346,000 from the current budget. It contains no tax increases; no rate hikes in electric or water and sewer rates, a 2.5 percent COLA for town employees as well as a number of increased fees.
The budget includes $0.4 million $250,000 in the general fund, $28.2 million in electric and $4.6 million in water and sewer. The total capital outlay budget is $190 million
After a public hearing with no participation, council began discussion of the budget, with Shepheard prefacing his first question with the comment that he had “tried to get answers” from Thornton, but was unsuccessful on many. Shepheard noted he had sent Thornton a list of questions in an effort to obtain answers.
The discussion almost immediately grew contentious after a curt response from Thornton caused Shepheard to become more aggressive in his questioning.
During a pause by Shepheard, council member Candis Owens said the budget had been discussed and that everyone had had an opportunity to get answers to their questions — and then called the question with Carol Ruffin seconding. Owens’ motion to end discussion failed in a 4-4 vote, with Mayor Donald Morris casting the tie-breaker.
Discussion continued on the budget and it was during this portion of the process that both councilman Rick Page and Shepheard, at separate times, made multiple requests of both Thornton and McCall in regards to getting additional information included in the document.
Thornton said he had not included Page’s requested information — a breakdown of positions and pay grades — in any of the “24 or 26 budgets I have prepared.” McCall said she had worked in three states and had never had the request made.
After Morris noted that if the materials were available and council could use it as a management tool, why not make it available? It was then that both acquiesced.
During the budget discussion, council member Deborah Jordan singled out Shepheard and noted that “if you don’t understand accounting, you don’t understand it. I have an accounting background and I do, but it is ok if you don’t.”
Moments later, Shepheard asked Morris if he might address Jordan’s comments and Morris, noting that “as long as you keep your voice down and keep it civil, yes.”
As Shepheard began, pointing out his business background and noting that he did have an understanding of business, Jordan got up and left council chambers, pointing her right forefinger to the sky as she left the room.
It was during her absence that the budget was approved.
In other action:
• Council approved a text amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance that will allow the development of solar energy facilities in the community;
• Council approved a text amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance that will allow the development of microbreweries in the community. They later approved an application to the North Carolina Department of Commerce Main Street Solutions Fund for a grant of $200,000 for Tarboro Brewing Company, to be located at 525 N. Main St. The grant program requires a $400,000 commitment from applicants Steven and Inez Rubistello and either the creation or retention of eight full-time permanent jobs.
• Council also approved a $251,000 bid submitted by Caldwell Tanks, Inc. of Louisville, Ky., for the reconditioning a the town’s 200,000 elevated water tank known as the Poly-Lok Tank. The outside will be refinished without the town logo or name, which saved $5,000.
• Approved a $120,000 contract for engineering services with the Wooten Company in regards to the $970,000 sewer line rehabilitation project.
• Received an unsolicited bid from Dr. Thomas Gennosa for town-owned property at 509 Trade St. and agreed to submit a counter proposal. The building is currently occupied by the Tarboro/Edgecombe Chamber of Commerce.