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Dublin Board Hears “Budget Practices” Request from Fire Department

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by Blake Proctor

With a rap of his knuckles on the table, Mayor Darryl Dowless called the 2021 April Fools’ Day (April 1st) meeting of the Dublin Board of Commissioners to order at 6 pm in the Town Community Building, where they have met since the onset of the Xi Jinpingfluenza pandemic.

Mayor Dowless provided the invocation, and the Board quickly approved the minutes from the March meeting. There were no citizens in attendance to be recognized, nor was there any Old Business to consider.

As the first item of New Business, the Mayor then called on Dublin Fire Chief Pete Batten and Eugene Lockamy, President of the Dublin Fire District Board, to present their proposal to amend the budget practices the Town uses for funding the Fire Department.

First, out of the gate, Chief Batten informed the Board that the Department has lost several grant opportunities because it’s budget is too large for this size department; he believes that the Town should take over payment of the Department’s $8,000 utilities bill and its $15,000 annual insurance payment.

According to Chief Batten, this will lower the Department’s budget by $23,000, thereby understating its genuine expenditure budget, but also making it more qualified for state Public Safety grant awards.

Mr. Lockamy then asked what happens to grant funds that are not expended in a fiscal year – did they merely get dumped into the General Fund? Town Clerk Ashley Matthews attempted to explain that the funds were still available for the next budget year; however, evidently not understanding Fund accounting, Mr. Lockamy made some pointedly pained remarks regarding control and disposition of that money.

Mayor Dowless stated that he would set up a meeting between the Town’s auditor and Ms. Matthews, Chief Batten, Mr. Lockamy, Commissioner Hursey, and himself to show all concerned parties exactly how un-expended grant funds from one year are kept on the books for subsequent years under Fund accounting principles

To end his presentation, Chief Batten informed the Board that the Department’s Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) bottles are out of date, and he has ordered twelve new bottles at $1,000 each; the life of this equipment is expected to be fifteen years.

He also advised the Commission that in another two years, the Department will have to purchase a new equipment truck; a similar truck recently purchased by another department cost $125,000.

To close, the Chief said that the Department needed two part-time paid personnel to be at the station during weekdays when volunteers are at work and unavailable to respond to calls. These personnel would work 1,000 hours annually at an average pay rate of $12.00 per hour, and would be considered contract workers with no benefits or Social Security; they would receive an IRS Form 1099, not a W-2.

In a flurry of other business, first, a resolution to authorize the transfer of the 1989 GMC pumper to the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department was unanimously adopted; an asphalt paving, patching & seal coating contract was awarded to Hickman Utilities of Bladenboro in the amount of $18,825, as was Amendment #1 to that contract.

Also approved unanimously was a Zoning Compliance request allowing the Town’s Dollar General to sell beer and wine for off-premises consumption.

A short discussion ensued regarding the monthly $20 minimum bill from the County Water System, evidently for availability in the instance of an emergency; Public Works Director Jonathan Ward stated that the Town has a similar meter in case the County needs water, but hasn’t been charging a minimum bill. It was the consensus of the Board that perhaps the Town should charge a similar standby charge.

Sewer adjustments for White Lake Marine and a private residence were quickly approved. It was further noted that storm outlets at 6824 and 6866 Albert Street may be clogged, but the drains are actually on private property in the front yards; Mr. Ward will, however, look into the matter.

A quick discussion of the long-term ongoing fire ant problem ensued. It was agreed that fire ant poison only kills the ants that come up and consume it; the queen is not affected. Acetate will also kill the ants, but the odor is repugnant. According to Mr. Ward, what is needed is continuous and frequent mowing.

Town attorney Whitley Ward informed the Board that the Register of Deeds will soon be opening her office for attorneys’ needs; however, that avenue is now moot because the Town has found the document that closed McNeal Street some years ago. She will determine alternatives in light of this new information to bring back to the Board.

There was nothing of consequence during the Department Reports. The Mayor called for a motion, and the meeting adjourned at 7:33 pm.

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