Commissioners cut police funding while increasing library funding in split votes

PILOT MOUNTAIN — A contentious budget workshop took place in Pilot Mountain this afternoon. Covering the costs of the many necessary town expenses with minimal increases to taxes and fees has proven a challenge.

The town has taken a hit in revenues due to the state eliminating privilege licenses. Along with the rising cost of insurance rates and operating expenses for the water treatment plant, the cut is creating a trickle down effect to many areas of the town budget.

The commissioners voted to increase the proposed funding of the library to its full requested amount of $34,000 in a tie broken by Mayor Dwight Atkins with Commissioners Cordie Armstrong and Kim Quinn opposing. The amount funded is in addition to giving the library the full balance of the recently sold stocks, which will go toward capital improvements.

“Where will that money come from?” asked Quinn.

Then Commissioner Gary Bell suggested lowering the proposed tax rate from the 3.5-cent increase to a 2.5-cent increase. Again, Quinn asked, “Where will the money come from?”

The cuts in the budget to cover an increase to the library and a lower tax rate were found by reducing the police department budget and removing the position of finance officer.

According to Atkins, a 2.5-percent reduction in the police budget is equivalent to $14,000.

When asked how the department would be affected, Chief Darryl Bottoms replied, “The citizens would be loosing out,” explaining that they already run with a skeleton crew.

The tie vote was broken by Atkins, who voted for the reduction of the police budget reduction along with Bell and Commissioner Linda Needham.

How the cut will be distributed within the department is yet to be determined.

“Paying $34,000 for a part-time finance officer seems like too much,” said Bell.

Town Manager Amanda Reid reminded the commissioners that the position is required by law. Holly Utt, who has been serving in that capacity as well as town clerk, recently has resigned from the finance position, but will continue clerk duties.

Once more the commissioners had a tied vote. Atkins, Needham and Bell voted in favor of removing the position. But no solution was given on how the town would address the need for a finance officer.

The board discussed postponing the purchase of some equipment for the public works department. Decisions regarding the purchase of a backhoe, excavator, and chipper have been delayed until tonight’s meeting as financing rates were not available.

A public hearing will be held for comments on the proposed budget at the meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The final budget is slated to be approved at the same meeting, along with discussion about Depot Street repairs.

Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.

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