Alderman Morton stalls Chapel Hill budget over salary hikes

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Normally by June, government bodies have their budgets for the next fiscal year set and are just trying to fit in the required three votes to accept the budget before July 1.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on June 12 in Chapel Hill exposed lingering doubts about their proposed 2017-18 budget.

Two of the town’s six aldermen voted against approval of next year’s proposed budget for the town at the meeting.

Alderman Marion Joyce had abstained from voting on the first reading of the budget at the previous meeting, but voted against the budget on second reading.

Alderman Dottie Morton voted for the budget on first reading but changed her vote to no for the second reading.

There was no discussion either before or after the vote, so the reasoning of each remained unclear.

Contacted later, Morton said that she had voted in favor on the first reading in order to get the budget approval process underway, but she had concerns over the salary increases contained in the budget.

Her concern, she said in an email, was with the size of salary increases proposed for town employees, citing some increases as high as 20 percent.

She said that her research had shown that even 5 percent increases were unusual and she worried about the future ramifications of the change.

There are increases of 20 percent contained in the budget, but that is directed at moving the town baseline salary figure from $10 an hour to $12 an hour.

The budget includes increases aimed at making the town’s salary structure more competitive with surrounding municipalities and counties, enabling the town to attract and retain quality employees.

Town Administrator Mark Graves said that when he started, patrolmen with the police department were paid $11.85 an hour. The proposed budget moves that starting salary to $16.50 for example.

Lewisburg City Council approved an additional $62,000 this year to bring officers starting pay to a similar level. Departments are trying to stop what has been rapid turnover among officers as they leave for departments with higher salary scales.

Joyce had not responded as of press time regarding the basis of her opposition to the current budget proposal.

Another recent issue that did not appear on the agenda was a second vote on the proposed establishment of a distillery in town.

At their last meeting, aldermen approved the first reading of a resolution that would have added distilleries as an acceptable use in areas zoned as either M-1 or B-2, manufacturing or business, provided a special exception is granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Discussion during the meeting indicated that the Wheeler’s Raid Distillery project was encountering difficulty negotiating lease terms with sites it had identified as possible locations in town.

The second reading appears on the agenda for the special called meeting scheduled for June 29 that allows for the final reading of the budget before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Aldermen approved a resolution that would allow non-profit organizations to obtain special event beer permits.

The measure was brought to the board by the Chapel Hill Lions Club as a potential avenue to increase revenue from their annual Super Pull of the South.

Aldermen also approved on first reading a proposed zoning change to property on Unionville Road, which would change lots between the town hall and the Marshall County Co-op from commercial zoning to residential.

When the proposal was first brought before the Planning Commission, Dr. Jim Lech, who advises the town on zoning and planning issues, said it was unusual in his experience for zoning to change from commercial to residential.

A developer has proposed several homes on the site.