By SHANNON WATKINS
Town council debated the town’s needs versus capital in the budget at Tuesday night’s meeting, leading to much discussion of where new items are needed for the town departments.
Assistant to the Town Manager Dave Quesenberry, acting in place of Town Manager John Hawley, who is on leave, said “We’ve approached the planning district commission with getting us a new comprehensive plan. Our plan dates from 1996 and it was dated a little but early last decade. Frankly now it’s just out of date completely.”
Quesenberry indicated the town also needed a new zoning ordnance in 2014, and software that would be able to quickly store and retrieve zoning info.
After this, Quesenberry said, “In the last week I’ve become quite aware of our situation with vehicles. Frankly, they’re falling apart. Literally. And we’re going to have to do something about that, at least I would encourage you to do something about it. We’re welding doors and now we’ve got one where we can’t re-weld because the metal’s too thin. We’ve had brake failures on one. It’s not so much that they’re in a state of disrepair; we’ve maintained them as well as we can, they’re just worn out.”
He continued, “And an additional thing we need to consider is that in case one of these things is one the road and has a failure, and an employee or a citizen gets hurt, guess where the liability lies? So we’ve got some real needs in public works and engineering, I realize the situation is pretty tough, but I guess my concern is, someone’s going to get hurt. We’ve patched them up and done the best we could.”
Quesenberry added, to laughter, “Actually, the blue police car will qualify for antique tags.”
Mayor Jeff Worrell agreed, asking, “Can we please, please, please get rid of the old ones?”
Economic Developer John White discussed an old 1994 Chevy Blazer that is still in use by the town. “We completely wore it out with the building of (the) James Hardie (plant site) six years ago,” he said. “It suffered irreparable harm. And we’re still driving it. I don’t like to ride in it, I don’t like to drive it, I don’t want to look at it.”
After some debate about replacing cars with foreign versus domestic models, Worrell asked, “Chief Roche, can you speak about police cars?”
Police Chief Gary Roche advised the council of problems with 4-wheel drives that had holes in them, and four police vehicles that were purchased after the ’96 snowstorm that he described as “at the end of their life.”
Roche also noted the vehicle driven by Officer Sarah Regan during a recent drug bust, saying, “Sarah’s a new detective and she’s only ten years older than the car we put her in to drive. She’s 28 years old, and the car’s 18.”
Councilman Jamie Radcliffe asked Roche about the possibility of getting SUVs for some of the police department’s needs.
“I haven’t for a couple of reasons,” Roche answered. “They’re more expensive to run, they’re more expensive to upfit. Getting one isn’t the problem, it’s having one. It breaks just sitting there.”
Vice Mayor Goodman said of the capital improvements plan, “Every year here we’ve got cars in some form, and trucks, and that’s one of the things that when it comes to the appearance of the community, it looks bad. I don’t know how much we can squeeze out, but we need to do something this year. And in subsequent years make more room for that.”
“There is something we also need to factor in, and that is that we can only cut this pie so much, and so we need to make this a bigger pie,” said White, proposing the possibility of using the town’s 19 acres behind the James Hardie plant that could be used for industrial development.
“We could make the investment of grading, and making it ready for someone to come in and build on that site,” said White. “And that is a way of growing the pie.”
Discussion returned to the town’s vehicles and possibility of putting fleet vehicles on rotation, though Councilman Radcliffe reminded the council, “Anything 10, 11, 12 years old, you’re looking at safety issues.”
White said, “Can I offer a caution? There is basically one pot of money. That pot is already cut up. Before anything else happens, we fund the budget. Before anything else happens, we have to pay Pepper’s Ferry. We have these commitments already, and these commitments take down your services. If we commit without a new source of revenue, in whatever form, cutting out a percentage of capital off what we already have, we’re talking about cutting some form of service, period.”
“I don’t know that we’re talking about eliminating,” Goodman said. “We have to start looking at every possibility of revenue. I know we’ve hard fought against any conversation about taxing changes this year, but we’re at that point where we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do. I don’t think anybody at this table wants to raise taxes, but I’ve been looking at this for three years now! You guys have been looking at far longer than I have. It’s frustrating!”
He added later, “I’m sick of looking at a capital improvement plan that we do nothing with.”
Worrell interjected, “It’s a wish list.”
Goodman replied, “There are some parts here that are always made into a wish list until stuff gets better, but there are some things on here—it can’t be on a wish list. We have to do it.”
Worrell said, “There’s obviously going to have to be more discussion in this regard.”
Boyd pointed out that in 2014 the town’s debt would be paid off, freeing up $74,360 for capital needs in 2015. “I included this so you could do your long-range planning,” she said.
“We need to look at our realistic debt capacity compared to the growth of the town. We don’t want to be in so much debt that we can’t actually grow,” said Goodman.