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South Hill Council frees up $900,000 to carry out budgeted expenditures

SoVaNow.com / November 11, 2020
South Hill Town Council on Monday approved a request by Town Manager Kim Callis to unfreeze more than $900,000 in spending in the 2021 fiscal year budget, money that was put on hold in June to protect against a fiscal shortfall from the coronavirus pandemic.

Council agreed to lift the freeze by a 7-0 vote, but members Shep Moss and Gavin Honeycutt said they were “voting with exception.” Both said they were unable to fully support a budget that was developed before they were elected to Town Council in June.

Ahead of the vote, Moss questioned the need to spend nearly $200,000 for a motor grader that is used less than 30 hours per year, he said.

He suggested it would be more fiscally prudent to rent the equipment when needed.

Callis said the current motor grader, which is primarily used to repair the berms along town roads, is more than 20 years old and it is very difficult to find parts for the grader. Callis did not say, and no one on Council asked if the current motor grader is still operational.

Moss said because of the limited usage of the motor grader, it took over five years for the machine to reach its first major servicing requirement at 200 hours.

Other items slated to be unfrozen are a $235,000 cost of living wage increase for town workers, a $48,000 crew cab truck for the street maintenance division, a new vehicle for code compliance costing $26,000, a $22,000 4x4 vehicle for the water division, and a 2021 Ford F150 truck for the police costing $44,000.

There is also a new speaker system for Council chambers at a cost of $20,000, $32,000 for guns, and other equipment for the police department, a $54,000 tractor for the street maintenance division, and $140,000 for new fencing at Parker Park. Another $14,000 will be spent for a mower for parks and grounds, $17,500 in fencing at facilities maintenance sites and $55,000 for a generator for the sewer division. In all, Council agreed to unfreeze $914,017 in proposed expenditures.

In making the request, Callis noted, “At the June 8, 2020 regular meeting Council adopted and appropriated funds for the FY 2020-2021 Town budget. In considering the effects of the COVID pandemic, utility service discounts were increased to 25 percent while also freezing capital expenditures totaling $914,017 and employee cost of living adjustments/incentives. These frozen items were to be revisited in October.

“As revenues are on track to meet budget and in recognition of our employees’ continuing outstanding efforts to meet a variety of ongoing challenges during the pandemic, the committee unanimously recommends the release of the previously appropriated funds for capital expenditures and the employee COLA/incentive.”

At the request of director of finance and administration Sheila Cutrell, Council agreed to appropriate $7,675 to replace recently installed plexiglass screens at four customer service windows in the lobby of Town Hall.

Cutrell said the existing screens will be replaced with bullet resistant glass for the security of town employees. CARES Act money was previously used to fund the cost of retrofitting customer service windows, close off existing openings, install new transaction countertops, a speaker system and transaction drawers and make one window ADA-compliant.

Cutrell was asked by Moss why the town sought $214,000 in CARES Act money from Mecklenburg County to make up for revenue lost to the town after offering a discount to water and sewer users during the pandemic. He said the rules for requesting and spending CARES Act money clearly preclude such requests, which Moss characterized as revenue replacements.

Callis said the funds were not revenue replacement since the town implemented the discount. The money was not lost to the town from customers unable to pay their water and sewer bills, but was not received as income once the discount was instituted.

He said to date, the discount has saved residents more than $480,000 on water and sewer bills.

Callis said he planned to ask the members of the County CARES Act committee to revisit the request or allow the town to reallocate the money toward a gift card program similar to the one the County has initiated to get shoppers to support local merchants during the pandemic.

Moss also asked Cutrell why she sought CARES Act money to reimburse the town for the cost of sick leave benefits paid to town employees during the pandemic since that was a budgeted item and again precluded from the list of approved expenditures for CARES Act money. She claimed the item was not budgeted even though town employees are paid for sick leave and that calculation is included in the benefits offered to town workers.

Callis announced that Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday released an additional $60 million to be combined with $60 million approved by the General Assembly in CARES Act funding for municipal utility relief. The total of $120 million will provide payment support for utility customers impacted by COVID-19 pandemic.

Callis said he did not know if South Hill would qualify for the utility relief program. He implied, though did not state specifically, that he would reach out to the Department of Housing and Community Development, which is administering the program to see if South Hill can establish its own program using some of the appropriated CARES Act money to support its utility customers with bill payments and assist with outstanding debt.

According to a press release from the Governor’s office, the program application and eligibility criteria for counties and cities and their municipal utilities will be available in the coming weeks.

Police Chief Stuart Bowen asked Council to appropriate $4,000 from the police asset forfeiture funds to purchase six H&K .40 caliber rifles and ammunition from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office. Bowen said that office is “moving away from a .40 caliber platform to a 9 mm platform” because these firearms are easier to shoot. Bowen noted, however, that his officers were fully capable of firing a .40 caliber rifle.

The rifles being purchased from the Sheriff’s Office will replace surplus military rifles currently being used by the South Hill Police Department.

During the FY 2020-21 budget process, $3,300 was set aside to provide tax relief for volunteer members of the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department or the Southside Rescue Squad who live within town limits and who pay personal property taxes. Cutrell said the appropriate method for providing the relief would be for Council to adopt a separate tax rate that would apply to one motor vehicle owned and regularly used by active volunteer members of fire department, rescue squad or active auxiliary members who live within the Town limits and who pay personal property tax. This was done without objection.

Council approved minor updates to the language of the town’s existing noise ordinance and reduced the penalty from a class one misdemeanor to a class three misdemeanor. The also approved a request from Superior Investments, Inc. to rezone property at 1021 W. Atlantic Street and 1041 W. Atlantic Street from Commercial District C-2 to Urban Mixed Use District MX-3 and a separate request from Steven Arthur for a special exception permit to use the property at 825 W. Danville Street for small engine sales, parts, and repairs.

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