Council hears needs, sets goals

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Staff Reports

CHAPEL HILL -- Lewisburg councilmen on Thursday heard department heads talk about what they needed and Councilman Steve Thomas, organizer of a city retreat, summarized the high points as afternoon turned to dusk at Henry Horton State Park.

An attempt to make the city's recreation services pay more for themselves could be one of the noticeable changes arising from the daylong discussions that will probably include steps toward savings and a reassignment of expenses to reflect more of what, for example, the Public Works Department costs.

Other changes should make the city safer for residents, according to Thomas who explained these ideas grew from discussions among "interest groups" that focused on one department, or another.

Changes probably won't be immediate. One of the goals that were stated is "to make parks and recreation return 40 cents on the dollar" spent by the city to provide the service, Thomas said.

In the audience was Dave Kennedy, chairman of the countywide Joint Economic and Community Development Board. He wanted to know how much money is generated by fees paid to that department.

It's about 34 cents per dollar, city officials said.

Meanwhile, Fire Department headquarters need renovation, or a new building.

"When we built the spec building," Thomas said, referring to construction of a metal structure in the Lewisburg Business Park on the north side of Mooresville Highway, "they (the fire department's needs) were passed over."

Fire Chief Larry Williams and Police Chief Chuck Forbis endorse improved quarters for the fire department's administration, now at Water Street and Second Avenue North.

The building that houses police headquarters, the city court and court clerk's office was renovated about five years ago after City Hall on East Church Street was opened.

An ordinance is needed to deal with false alarms and city codes need rewriting, Thomas said.

Some of new city equipment could cost $100,000 and scheduled purchasing was proposed to "flatten out" the impact of such costs, Thomas said.

The Public Works Department "gets saddled" with projects that cost it money when the task might better be assessed to another department instead of the one managed by Kenny Ring, director of public works.

So the suggestion is to "begin an internal charge system so Kenny does not have unexpected expenses," Thomas said.

Circumstances appear to "still be in flux" with regard to Cedar Ridge Landfill's tipping fees and other financial arrangements as the state has permitted expansion, Thomas said. The city is conducting a recycling program and yet the man overseeing the sorting is a county employee. City garbage trucks collect recyclables. "Maybe we'll ask the county to take that over," Thomas said.

As Waste Management is expanding Cedar Ridge Landfill for operations that may last five or six years, the city has come to realize it might face responsibilities as a result of its old landfill in that general vicinity. A state grant is paying half the cost of a short water line to deliver potable water to half a dozen homes where water wells became unusable. A state geologist's opinion is that liquids from the old city landfill affected the water wells. Some residents in that area have said they think that happened because of blasting for widening of Mooresville Highway.

"Testing wells," Thomas said, "is something to have on our radar to avoid costs."

In addition to improvements to the city's Web site, residents may soon be able to make various payments to the city over the Internet, including paying taxes, and paying for building permits.