Cleveland board faces flurry of questions
Taxes, utility rates among concernsBy Kathy Chaffin
CLEVELAND ó Jason Josey asked the town’s board of commissioners Monday night to grant him more than the three minutes regularly allowed during the public comment session, but didn’t get it.
“I’ll be back in August if anyone wants to come,” Josey said when his request was denied.
Josey, who lives in Mount Ulla, said he was at the meeting to talk about change, a popular topic last year. “The change I’m talking about tonight is a little bit different,” he said, explaining that it was about “ill-spent money by the board of Cleveland.”
He continued by reading from a list of 21 questions included on a four-page handout distributed to Mayor Jim Brown and the three commissioners at the meeting. “Who first had the idea to increase taxes?” he began, referring to a 2-cent increase approved as part of the 2008-2009 budget that raised the town’s tax rate to 21 cents per $100 property valuation.
When Josey waited for commissioners to respond to his first question, Brown said, “This is not a forum where you come and ask questions.”
Josey continued reading, questioning why the board approved a tax increase and a 3 percent salary increase for town employees in 2008 “when we were entering our first global recession, unemployment in the United States was beginning to spike, gas was over $4 a gallon in the U.S., and 19 days earlier, Freightliner had just laid off 1,500 people.”
The tax increase hit the truck manufacturing company, the county’s largest employer, he said, “when they were already entering turbulent times.”
Continuing down his list, Josey wanted to know why, in 2009, the board voted to increase water and sewer rates by 10 percent and gave town employees a 2 percent raise. “How do you justify giving employees raises for the fourth year consecutively, when most people in Cleveland are doing good to have a job!” he said.
He also asked about the $10-per-month salary increase board members approved for themselves. Cleveland commissioners now receive $360 a month, while the mayor, who is elected by townspeople, makes $410.
Josey only made it halfway through his list of questions, failing to reach his concluding call for a repeal of the increases in the tax rate and water and sewer rates along with the cancellation of employees’ raises and the salary increase for board members.
He spoke up again later in the meeting, when the board voted on a consent agenda approving employee incentive bonuses based on years of service at the rate approved in 2000 and a rate increase of 4.22 percent for purchased water to mirror the increase implemented by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.
When Brown asked if anyone wished to vote against a motion to approve, Josey shouted, “Me!”
The vote passed unanimously.
Josey began talking again after the board voted to go into executive session to discuss buying .33 acre of land next to the town cemetery on Cemetery Street, which is allowed under the N.C. Open Meetings Law.
Josey said the town didn’t need the land and alleged that commissioners were only buying the land to get rid of the “ugly trailer” on it.
Even after the board went into executive session, he continued blasting town officials in the front lobby, where the 13 people in attendance gathered to wait for the open session to resume.
Josey, however, did not return to the meeting room for the public vote to purchase the land for $18,000. Brown said the land will be used to eventually enlarge the cemetery and that it would be landscaped as a buffer between the cemetery and adjacent residential property.
Town commissioners voted on one more item ó to have the mayor set the agenda from now on. The motion also passed by a unanimous vote.
Brown said afterward that town residents will still be allowed to speak for three minutes during the public comment session as long as they sign up beforehand, which is the requirement now, but that other agenda items will be limited to town business, not opinions.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.