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Spencer cuts 4 jobs; garbage goes to curb

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SPENCER — The Spencer town board on Tuesday eliminated the code enforcement officer position so other employees won’t have to endure furloughs next year.
Aldermen also ended backyard garbage collection in Spencer, a longtime tradition, in favor of curbside pickup. The town will provide the service, not a private company.
Rather than making residents pay for new rollout garbage carts, aldermen voted to borrow $53,000 from the town’s $1.3 million fund balance and pay back the loan over five years with the savings generated by curbside pickup. Curbside is cheaper because it requires one less employee and fewer days to operate the garbage trucks.
Over five years, the town will save $130,000, even with buying the carts, Alderman Reid Walters said. People who qualify for a handicap sticker can request backyard garbage service.
Aldermen also agreed to dip into reserves to restore the Spencer Public Library’s hours of operation, as well as one set of turnout gear for the Fire Department. Charging groups to use the library and park for events will help replenish $5,923 to restore current library hours, they said.
With those changes, aldermen passed the 2011-12 budget. Alderman Scott Benfield cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he could not support a budget that eliminates jobs.
The town’s new property tax rate is 62.8 cents, an increase over the current 60 cents. But because Spencer property values fell an average of 8 percent after Rowan County’s revaluation, people whose property decreased in value will have a lower tax bill, even though the rate went up.
The budget cuts three fulltime positions — administrative clerk, sanitation worker, code enforcement officer — and a part-time leaf pickup worker.
Alderman Delaine Fowler suggested eliminating the code enforcement position, which had been cut back to part-time in Town Manager Larry Smith’s proposed budget. Part-time might not be effective, Fowler said, and the town can better compensate remaining employees with the savings.
Land Management Services Director Dustin Wilson will take over code services enforcement.
Fowler’s motion passed, with Benfield and alderman Tracy Aitken opposed.
Walters had tried earlier to eliminate furloughs by dipping into the fund balance.
“The staff has been asked to sacrifice enough,” he said.
Alderman Jeff Morris, who has been opposed to any use of fund balance, seconded the motion. Benfield also voted yes, but board tied 3-3 with Aitken, Fowler and Alderman David Smith voting no.
Mayor Jody Everhart broke the tie and voted no.
The board had an easier time rejecting a suggestion to contract land management services (the change wouldn’t save any money) and restoring library hours, both unanimously.
“We didn’t create and refurbish that library and get it back in running order to shut it down so our citizens can’t use it,” Fowler said.
By 2020, the town will have paid $472,000 in principal and interest on the library renovation.
Three people spoke in favor of restoring hours, including Meredith Williams, who said the library can help attract young, contributing families to Spencer and prevent learning regression in schoolchildren during the summer months.
Full library hours are “an absolutely essential service,” she said.
Aitken said the library has been gaining momentum after it was closed for a year. Tutoring programs are going strong, and librarian Cindy Atwell plans a summer reading program, Aitken said.
Library hours will remain four afternoons and Saturdays. The facility is closed Sundays and Wednesdays.
Many residents turned out for a public hearing on the budget. Howard Carter asked the board to cut the tax rate even more, saying his property values actually went up during revaluation.
“I can’t stand a whole lot more, and I don’t think most people can,” Carter said.
Robert Bennett, however, asked the board to increase the tax rate to revenue-neutral, which would bring in the same amount of money as last year.
The town needs more money to continue core services and prevent layoffs, he said.
“For too long, the board has listened to a few squeaky wheels and not done what is best for the town as a whole,” said Bennett, who accused some aldermen of playing politics with the budget.
The revenue-neutral rate was rejected by the board last month.


Spencer residents weigh in on garbage service
Opinions during a courtesy hearing at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting:
• Howard Carter: Keep garbage pickup in-house so no one loses a job.
• W.F. Owens: “Ridiculous” to switch to rollout carts when the curb is closer to the garbage truck than the backyard. “It’s insane. Are we trying to mimic Salisbury?”
• Toots Sparger: At age 83, she’s never had to carry her trash and “certainly at this age I don’t cherish the idea of having to push it out now.” Protect the jobs of garbage collectors.
• Robert Bennett: Switch to curbside collection. “The town should have done this years ago. We are behind the times.” People who oppose the switch are “stuck in yesteryear. That’s a great thing, but sometimes you have to move on.”
• Sherry Sides: Keep the service in-house to save jobs. “They work their butts off every day, and they don’t complain.”
• Beth Nance: Willing to pay more for backyard pickup. “I enjoy things the way they are.”
• Barb Compton: Spencer has the best garbage service she’s ever had. “Curbside is great, but please don’t privatize.”
• Jim Gobbel: Keep garbage and all other services in-house. Privatizing leads to less accountability and transparency. “I don’t know what’s going on with this board here. I think they’ve had a double dose of FOX News.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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