No tax increase in city’s proposed budget

By Ken MacDonald • There’s no tax increase in the works for Raeford residents, though a five-percent increase in water rates will likely be approved with the adoption of the budget next month.

In a budget presented to City Council Monday night by City Manager Dennis Baxley, the 48-cents-per-hundred-dollar-valuation rate would remain unchanged, yet would afford a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for City employees. The City will also absorb a six-percent increase in insurance costs for its workers. Baxley said the cost has been driven up by expensive claims.

The water rate increase has been planned for several years as part of funding for improvements at the City’s wastewater treatment plant. City residents also began paying five percent more last year. At the time, that translated into an average of $2.28 more for a user of 5,000 gallons of water per month—a bit more than the typical user of 3,000 gallons, Baxley said.

Water works

In other business, City staff continues its negotiations with Hoke County to sell water for the county system.

“We’ve talked about it several times over the course of two or three years,” Baxley said. “The county is looking at various options and the most feasible and logical one is to purchase water from us,” he said. The City’s roughly 25 wells could supply up to 450,000 gallons of water per day under an arrangement that would be evaluated annually. The City would make an initial investment of $3 million to get water to the other system and improve the treatment plant, and recoup the money over the life of the contract, Baxley said.

No speakers in hearing

No one spoke during a public hearing the City hosted to hear about proposed changes to its Unified Development Ordinance. A state law that went into effect in January aims to make such ordinances in municipalities and counties uniform. Many of the changes are simply to terminology—“conditional use permit” goes to “special use permit,” said Felicia Locklear, planner for the City. “And the only thing that’s different in the entire code, that we didn’t have in there before, is a section on billboards,” she said. “There is a section on (U.S. Highway) 401 that is not covered by D.O.T. Prior to this they would come to us to get a permit for a billboard, and we’d say, ‘You’d have to do it to D.O.T. standards.’ But there is a section of 401 that is not governed by D.O.T.” She said the new section allows planners to exclude the portion of the highway between Harris Avenue and Burlington Drive—the most heavily developed area—so that drivers in the congested area aren’t distracted by billboards. Action to approve the changes in the ordinance will come in June, said City Manager Baxley.

Request in person

Pondering the frequent requests for money from non-profit and civic groups, Councilman Wayne Willis told Council he’d like to ask groups to appear in person when making the requests. “Would it be appropriate, do ya’ll think, to have somebody from that group to come in here and kind of give us an update on how their agency is doing, what they’re going to use the money for, why do they need the money, instead of it just being a check-off?”

After a few minutes of discussion the board agreed informally to have the city manager contact groups that have made funding requests and have them send someone in June to speak briefly.

Digging a hole

Mayor John K. McNeill told the board he’d gotten a complaint that the machine that picks up yard debris was creating holes in peoples’ yards. “Don’t dig up my yard when you pick up my stuff,” he quoted the complainer. “You’ve got a pretty strip of centipede out there and the scoop comes and gets your stuff.”

“There are a few places it’s dug pretty deep,” Councilman Bobby Conoly said.

“Mine was six inches below the sidewalk,” said Councilwoman Mary Neil King.

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