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Elizabethtown Town Council Holds Virtual Public Hearings

By Joy Warren

Several public hearings were conducted Monday night during the virtual Elizabethtown Town Council meeting. Since this meeting was a virtual meeting, the law requires that written comments may be submitted at any time between the notice of the public hearing and 24 hours after the public hearing. Town Council was not able to act on any of the public hearing matters immediately following the public hearings. Action will be taken at the June 3, 2020, Recessed Council Meeting at Noon to be conducted electronically.

According to state statute, the Council must adopt a budget between June 1st and June 30th of each year. For the May Town Council meeting, the proposed budget was emailed to each of the Council Members for review. At that meeting, Town Manager Eddie Madden provided a quick overview of the General Fund balance and specifically noted the page in the proposed budget that deals with the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Tonight, the required public hearing was conducted before the adoption of the proposed budget. With the expected shortfall of revenue for FY 2020-21 due to a decrease in sales taxes during the Covid-19 shutdown, Council was provided a list of potential savings in the amount of $378,480 for items that may be frozen until a viable revenue stream is received for local government.

Suggested items for potential savings included in FY 20-21 Budget were: Cost of COLA for employees (2%) ($50,000); Purchase of 2 – police vehicles ($55,000); Revenue from annexation ($15,590); Revenue from room occupancy tax ($27,000); Part-time position in Administration ($21,788); Cancellation of Inmate Labor contract ($18,000); Fire Dept. – one firefighter position ($20,000); Police – one open position ($41,002); Vacant Finance Director’s position – 6 months ($43,500); Reduced debt service expense – Streetscape project ($10,600); Reduce Powell Bill expenditures ($62,000); Reduce Special Appropriations: County Library ($4,000); White Lake ($10,000).  The proposed budget did not include any tax increase, but did include a 3% increase in solid waste/sanitation fees.

A Public Hearing was required before the Council could adopt the Annexation Ordinance presented for two lots in the Elizabethtown Industrial Park. Lot #1 is property to serve Anthem Displays and Lot #2 is property to serve Westwood Manufacturing. The required Water and Sewer Service Agreements have been signed for each of the lots being annexed. At the May 4th Virtual Council meeting, Council received the required certification from the Town Clerk that all statutory requirements have been met for this annexation request.  Council will vote on Wednesday.

As requested by Bladen County Economic Developer, Mr. Chuck Heustess, Council was asked to consider incentive agreements for the purpose of recruiting or retaining business and industry to the Elizabethtown Industrial Park. The proposed agreements were provided to Council at the May meeting. Before adopting the incentive agreements, the Council conducted a public hearing tonight. Since the hearing was conducted by electronic means, the Council can receive written comments that will be provided to each council member as they are received. The comment period remains open for 24 hours after the conclusion of the regular meeting. Council will vote on the matter at the continued ZOOM meeting scheduled for June 3rd at 12:00 o’clock Noon.

At the May meeting, Council Member Howell Clark asked that the current policy that requires annexation for properties that need Town of Elizabethtown water and sewer services to be placed on the June agenda. Mr. Clark proposed an amendment to the policy that would specifically exempt industrial and/or manufacturing companies locating in the Elizabethtown Industrial Park from the annexation requirement.  Clark stated, “I agree that we should leave the current voluntary annexation policy in effect for all uses other than Industrial. The live/work/play area of the park as well as the taxiway section of the park were recently annexed and will provide tax base, jobs, and hopefully population to the town as they develop. This is congruent with sound economic development policies for these uses. However, it is my belief that if we force annexation on Industrial projects, we will negatively impact our ability to recruit Industrial projects into our park. If we amend the current policy to exclude Industrial projects from voluntary taxation, I believe that we will have more opportunities to recruit more Industrial projects to our park. Although the Town will not benefit from property taxes, we will benefit from potential jobs, population growth, housing tax base, and the momentum provided when we land projects that encourage future projects to look at our park. In short, I do not believe that Industrial annexation in the Elizabethtown Industrial Park by the Town is a good policy for Industrial growth.” After much discussion, the vote was 2 in favor of amendment (Clark, Glenn) and 2 opposed (Greene, Leinwand). While Mayor Campbell was deciding how she would vote, Councilman Herman Lewis checked in and was able to cast his vote against any changes to the current policy for voluntary annexation of those requesting Town water/sewer services at the Industrial Park.

Town Manager Eddie Madden provided an update on the various projects the Town has underway. The new fire/rescue building should be completed on the first of next week.  The Ribbon Cutting ceremony was scheduled for June 25th but has been postponed at this time due to Phase 2 restrictions.  A new date will be announced at a later time.

In administrative matters, Council approved Budget Amendments; reappointed Glendell Robinson (ABC Board), David Clark and Lee Greene (Airport Commission), Bobby Kinlaw, Michael Leinwand, Lorenza McDowell, Heather Tart, Maurice Williams (Planning Board); approved a loan agreement from Office of Recovery and Resiliency, and approved the monthly financial report.

Council discussed whether or not to allow baseball practice at Town facilities.  Mark Gillespie reported that the Parks and Recreation Board will meet tomorrow to discuss directives from the State officials.  The Mayor stated they would check to see what the current restrictions are at this time and will follow those guidelines.

After a closed session, the meeting was recessed until Wednesday, June 3rd at Noon.  This meeting will also be conducted electronically.  The July meeting was rescheduled to Monday, July 13th at 7:00 p.m.

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