Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Scott Jenkins
Salisbury Post
EAST SPENCER ó Only two people spoke at a public hearing Monday on the town’s proposed 2007-2008 budget.
Neither liked it.
Theodore Gladden asked the Board of Alderman to reject a proposed 3-cent hike that would bring the town’s property tax rate to 66 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
“Folks here are having a hard time,” Gladden said. “We just can’t stand that.”
The Rev. John E. Jones, a former alderman, told the board that proposed increases in taxes, water and sewer rates and garbage collection fees will only force more people out of a town that already has its share of vacant houses.
“Half the town’s boarded up now because people can’t afford their water bill,” Jones said.
Under the proposed spending plan, town residents would see their monthly water rate increase from $4.98 to $5.10, while the sewer rate would go from $5.98 to $6.22 per month. Garbage collection fees would rise from $11.93 to $12.68.
The proposed $2.25 million budget is an 8.9-percent increase over the current budget, but includes a 5.4-percent decrease in the general fund, which pays for services like police and fire protection, public works and zoning administration.
Jones charged that town officials are trying to make up for those who have moved away by balancing the budget on the backs of the people who have stayed in East Spencer.
“If I wasn’t 72 years old, I would catch the first train out of here,” he said.
Aldermen kept their views on the budget to themselves Monday. Only Mayor Erma Jefferies responded to the comments, saying proposed new water and sewer and garbage collection rates are in “direct relationship” to increases from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities and Waste Management, which provide the services.
The board has called a special meeting to discuss the budget June 19 and must adopt a new spending plan before the new fiscal year starts July 1.
The board also heard Monday from residents unhappy with some town officials.
Jones, the former alderman, criticized town employees who live outside East Spencer, such as Town Administrator Richard Hunter, who lives in Durham.
“They don’t think enough of East Spencer to live here, but they think enough of East Spencer to take the money,” Jones said.
Responding to similar criticism in April, town attorney Vernon Russell said that there is no legal requirement for the town administrator or zoning administrator to live inside town limits.
Phoebe Shinholster, speaking as spokesperson for a group called Concerned Citizens of East Spencer, voiced that complaint about Hunter and Kenneth Geathers Jr., the town’s zoning administrator, in April, and again criticized Geathers Monday.
“We have a zoning person out there who’s not qualified … and we still can’t get policemen or firemen to protect our citizens and we’re concerned about that,” she said.
With the departure of former Chief Eric Williams last month, the police department currently has two full-time and four part-time officers, Lt. James Schmierer said.
“I am committed to working with Mr. Hunter to do the best we possibly can, and we’re providing 24-hour coverage,” he said.
In its business agenda, the board:
– Approved an amendment to this year’s budget that moves $22,200 from a contingency fund to balance budgets in the police, public works and zoning departments.
– Approved an amendment to the minimum housing ordinance requiring a minimum standards inspection before an occupant can move into any house that has sat empty for 180 days.
– Approved a policy that allows police officers to drive their patrol cars home. Those who live more than 15 miles outside town limits must pay 42 cents per mile for each additional mile over that limit.- – –
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or