By Karen Hall
A big refund is coming to the City of Lewisburg because the city has been overcharged for streetlights since 2007, but councilmen and the mayor immediately disagreed about what the refund should be spent on.
At a special called meeting Wednesday, City Manager Tommy Engram gave councilmen copies of a letter from Richard Turner, general manager of Lewisburg Electric System.
"The total overcharge during this time, 2007 through 2012, amounts to $294,406.06," wrote Turner. "LES would like to pay the $294,406.06 in one check, and adjust the billing from July 1, 2012, to (the) present. The Board and Management apologizes to the Mayor, City Council, and all concerned for this problem, and pledges our cooperation in keeping these problems from happening again."
Engram recommended spending the windfall on improvements for the city, including WiFi on the square, changes in Jones Park, facade grants, a gateway sign on Mooresville Highway, improvements at the animal shelter, concept drawings for the square and Murray Farm Park, landscaping at the airport and other locations, and creation of a city plan. Even after doing all these things, there would still be $50,000 to put in reserve.
Mayor Barbara Woods was in favor of the proposed improvements.
"At last we can make some improvements instead of just holding the line," she said. "We've done nothing new, pretty, pleasant or attractive. I see this as an opportunity to do some things that need to be done."
"The city needs improvement," agreed Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. "This gives us an opportunity to jump start it. I would like to see us move forward."
Councilman Robin Minor also agreed, pointing out the Wyoming Group talked about the appearance of the town in their report. "That's what this is," Minor said, though he wants to county to share in the cost of WiFi for the square.
Councilman Ronald McRady argued against spending the money, stating it should be put away for contingencies.
"We know things are going to be tight," McRady said, reminding his fellow councilmen the city has been drawing from reserves at the end of every fiscal year to balance the books.
Councilman Steve Thomas pointed out to McRady that not all of the money would be spent.
"We're proposing to save 25 percent of this windfall," Thomas said.
Engram is definitely not proposing to spend all the money at once.
"I'm spending nothing, except for engineering, until we see if we have sane people running the federal government," said Engram.
"A lot of federal funding could disappear," added Woods. "We just have to hold our breath and wait until Jan. 1."
In other business at the special called meeting, Engram made a recommendation on cemetery maintenance.
He proposed using the city's available labor to straighten some of the monuments in Lone Oak Cemetery, concentrating on the simplest and the worst.
"It's an area of great sensitivity," he said. "So I though I should bring it before the council."
McRady cautioned that inmate labor must be closely supervised.
"We can't have these monuments tore up," he said. "I'd like to see it done without inmate labor."
"That's not cost effective," said Engram.
"I'll be standing right there with them," said Public Works Department Manager Kenny Ring. "We've been using them (inmates) at the cemeteries off and on for about 10 years."
McRady requested the record of the meeting reflect he had some concerns.
Engram also proposed Ring be appointed cemetery administrator, and that anyone coming to place a monument be required to notify him.
He also proposed the city begin installing the concrete bases for monuments of a sufficient depth and quality to eliminate future problems, and that the fee for these be paid at City Hall.
"The cemetery advisory board recommends both of these," Whitehead stated.
Meetings for next month will include public hearings on the proposals for improvements to Jones Park, to be held Jan. 10, and a special workshop, at a date to be announced, for councilmen to discuss sanitation issues. If the city is going to return to collecting its own garbage, new trucks will have to be ordered soon, Engram said. The cost of doing this will have to be compared with bids from companies willing to do garbage collection, the way Allied Waste is doing now.