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Divided Spencer board passes budget, OK’s Small Town Main Street plan

SPENCER — A divided Spencer Board of Aldermen passed the 2014-15 budget Monday with no changes to the budget or tax rate.
In a meeting peppered with disagreements and emotional debate from the board and citizens, aldermen voted 3-to-2 to accept the budget as proposed by Town Manager Larry Smith.
Aldermen Jeff Morris, Scott Benfield and Kevin Jones voted for the budget while Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel and Alderman Mike Boone voted against.
Alderman Reid Walters was not present.
The budget maintains the current tax rate of 62.8 cents per $100 of value, and included a recommendation to reinstate the full-time code enforcement position that was cut in 2011.
That position was the subject of debate and comment from residents at the public hearing for the proposed budget.
In remarks before the public hearing, Smith said the proposed budget reinstates the full-time position due to workload, future goals for residential growth and consistent feedback from board members and citizens about code violations.
Smith said keeping two part-time positions would save some $2,500 immediately, but “would actually decrease both efficiency and accountability” and “inconsistent interpretation in enforcement of codes.”
Gobbel and Boone took issue with that, with Gobbel praising the current part-time code enforcement officer’s work.
“I see no reason for the town of Spencer to remove from their ranks a dedicated person, a person who’s vested in our town,” Gobbel said. “… She straightened out the books, she built bridges with absentee landlords other people hadn’t been able to build bridges with.”
Boone said having two part-time code enforcement staff would be no different than having multiple police officers, all of whom enforce the same laws.
“If we have two part-timers, we always have one there, we always have a backup,” Boone said.
But Morris maintained that Board of Aldermen were not voting on whether to replace any staff member, but only on a recommended budget.
“Any current personnel could apply for that (full-time) position,” Morris said. “… Nor is the board’s proper authority to make personnel decisions.”
Three citizens spoke during the public hearing, two of whom addressed the code enforcement position.
Patsy Duncan, of Fourth Street in Spencer, said she didn’t understand how the town could be adding new jobs. “Where’s all this money coming from?” Duncan asked.
Smith said some of the positions set to be filled were vacated and are not new positions.
Beth Nance, of Fourth Street in Spencer, asked the board to keep the budget “at a minimum” by hiring a second part-time code enforcement officer.
Nance also spoke of the current holder of that position, whom she said “lives in town (and) is visible … I know she has a big investment in the community.”
Members also debated whether to postpone the vote until Walters returned.
Asked by Morris how he would vote in the case of a tie, Everhart indicated he would support the budget proposal.
As Benfield spoke in favor of hiring a full-time code enforcement officer, an audience member shouted, “You didn’t have one for two years! … You’ve got a good part-timer that’s doing it. You know that!” as Everhart banged his gavel to restore order.
Moments later, Morris called the question and the budget was adopted.
The board also approved a resolution of support and a framework to continue Spencer’s participation in the Small Town Main Street program, both passing on votes of 5-to-0.
Jon Palmer, local architect and member of the Small Town Main Street organizational committee, presented the proposal and recounted the history of the program up until now.
In January, aldermen voted to suspend STMS activities after a state coordinator for the program said Spencer lacked cohesiveness and recommended collapsing the full program into a smaller committee.
A new steering committee, including reps from existing tourism, economic development and historic preservation organizations, will either facilitate or be active members of monthly meetings.
The goal, Palmer said, is to build partnerships in order “to achieve a common vision” for Spencer’s future: redeveloping downtown as a “business and cultural center” using the national Main Street program’s approaches.
The Board of Aldermen must reauthorize the program annually for it to continue, Palmer said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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