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Council approves budget, resolution on racism and policing
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Council approves budget, resolution on racism and policing

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Morganton City Hall

The Morganton City Council approved a resolution on racism and policing along with a budget at its June 15 special meeting.

Council members passed the resolution after the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The resolution reaffirmed a letter signed by nearly 100 mayors across the state, including Morganton Mayor Ronnie Thompson, that pledged to fight against systemic racism within police forces, cities and the country.

“Aware that all of us on Morganton City Council are white people over the age of 50, we acknowledge that we have not, and could not have, experienced the gulf and distrust that exists all too often in our society between people of color and the law enforcement agencies,” the resolution said. “We can, however, relate to the horror and pain that comes from watching the video of the death of Mr. Floyd, and other similar videos.”

The resolution said the council can and does speak up when it sees wrongdoing, asserts that justice must be administered fairly and that racism and bias in policing is rejected.

“We can and do require accountability from our own local law enforcement, just as the people of Minneapolis require accountability for the death of George Floyd,” the resolution said. “We can assert that here in Morganton, we as the responsible elected officials will assure that our Department of Public Safety continues to operate with the best possible policies and procedures, and continues to reach out openly to all segments of the community.”

Council members also approved a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The budget kept the ad valorem tax rate, the downtown special tax rate and the solid waste user fee the same as last year. Ad valorem taxes will be 57 cents per $100 value, which City Manager Sally Sandy’s team believes would generate the city $9.4 million for the general fund.

The downtown special tax rate will stay at 14 cents per $100 value, which would generate $130,000 for the city’s Main Street department expenditures, according to information from the city.

Solid waste rates will remain the same under the budget, coming in at $12 per month. The city will be getting rid of the Shuey Park recycling collection center, with information from the city saying that the facility has not operated effectively for years, and often the contractor refuses to pick up the recycling because of contamination.

Eliminating the collection center in July would save the city $60,000 in the upcoming budget year.

Water and sewer rates also will remain the same, but electric customers could be seeing a rate drop of about 3 percent or $4.25 per month for an average household.

CoMPAS internet and phone rates will remain the same for the upcoming budget year, but TV rates will be raised $10 per month to cover the increased cost of local channels starting in January.

Visit https://bit.ly/3dUVzkR to read more about the proposed budget.

The city’s five year consolidated plan for 2020-24 and its 2020 action plan, which are used to determine how the city should distribute Community Development Block Grant funds, ultimately were approved by the council, but did meet some concerns from a local nonprofit leader.

Beverly Carlton, executive director of Olive Hill Community Economic Development Corporation Inc., spoke during the council’s public hearing. She said her organization uses the plans to apply for federal funding.

Carlton brought up concerns about the vague nature of the plan, old data on topics like housing and homelessness being used in the plan and some of the issues she and her organization have encountered when applying for funding and working with the city.

Lisa Helton, the city’s CDBG administrator from the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, said that a lot of the data used to create the plans is pre-populated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. She also said that the city of Lenoir, which is the lead entity for the program, might have more information than is available in the city of Morganton’s plans.

She also suggested Carlton reach out to Rick Oxford, a community development administrator for WPCOG, to get more information. Sandy suggested having Oxford come over for a meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Cato agreed with that idea.

“I think that would be a good idea,” Cato said. “I think that Beverly’s brought up enough question marks which we’re supposed to provide answers.”

While Carlton wanted the council to send the plans back to a committee to be revised, council members went ahead and adopted the plans to make sure that their CDBG funding from USHUD wouldn’t be jeopardized, but Sandy explained that they could come back to the plan and make adjustments at any point during the terms of the plans.

“This plan is not a static thing or a set in stone thing,” Sandy said. “You can change it and amend it at any point during the five years that you choose to.”

Plans for the future of the Historic Courthouse Square are getting closer to fruition with the selection of a demolition company to begin the project.

The council awarded a contract to demolish the old jailhouse on the square and remove the building’s foundation to D.H. Griffin for a total of $44,655.

City staff also received bids to resurface Bouchelle Street from Patterson Street past Moorehead Street.

The city has allotted $385,000 for resurfacing streets as part of its Powell Bill funding.

Maymead Inc. submitted a bid of $307,040.01 for the street resurfacing. City staff is hoping to also resurface North Terrace Place to use all of the budgeted $385,000. Council members awarded the contract to Maymead under the terms that it won’t exceed $385,000.

The walking track at Freedom Park also is set to be resurfaced.

The upcoming budget includes $175,000 to resurface the track, but the lowest, responsible bid came in at $196,632.15 from Midstate Contractors.

The city staff has been negotiating with Midstate to get the work the city wants done for the budgeted amount.

Council members held another special meeting Thursday to approve a plan for spending COVID-19 relief funds.

City Finance Director Jessie Parris said the county generously gave the city $162,050 from the federal COVID-19 funding they received.

Council members voted to use $25,000 of the funds for personal protective equipment and sanitizing items, and the remaining funds will be used to cover part of the two weeks paid administrative leave the city gave employees during the early stages of the governor’s stay-at-home order.

Other items approved by the city council at its June 15 meeting include:

» Year-end budget amendments for the 2019-20 budget year.

» Amendments to account for $87,803 in COVID-19 funding.

» A contract with WPCOG for CDBG administrative services.

» Renewal of an agreement to participated in the 2020-21 Western Piedmont Stormwater Partnership.

» A contract with Nexsen Pruet PLLC for lobbying services.

The council does not have a July meeting and will not meet again in person for a regular meeting until August.

Chrissy Murphy can be reached at cmurphy@morganton.com or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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