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China Grove Town Council weighs 2021-22 budget priorities, supports buying body cameras

CHINA GROVE — During a work session to prepare the fiscal year 2021-22 budget on Tuesday night, the China Grove Town Council considered several requests and added a few items to the upcoming budget.

The proposed 2021-22 budget presented to council members was for $3.89 million, which was nearly identical to last year. However, this year’s proposed budget will be higher than the number provided at the start of the meeting after council members decided to add several items on Tuesday evening.

Council members fervently supported adding the purchase of 10 police body cameras to the upcoming budget. The cameras will cost the town $7,500 per year for the next five years, but council members said they believe the cameras are worth it.

Councilman Brandon Linn, a master deputy for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, explained how helpful cameras can be for law enforcement officers like himself.

“It’s a really good tool because there’s several aspects that can be useful,” Linn said. “One is crime scenes. Whenever officers go to crimes, basically once you enter the crime scene, that camera has a first glimpse of everything that’s going on. You might leave something out of your head, notes and you can always refer back.”

Body cameras, he said, also help keep officers “true.”

“As long as that officer is wearing that body cam and they have the ethics that I hope they do, which I’m sure they do, then this will keep this honest,” Linn said. “I think it can save them in the long run as well as this town. It can be very beneficial.”

Mayor Charles Seaford said the town is running a risk by not having the cameras. 

China Grove Chief of Police Andrew Deal said he highly recommended adding body cameras to the budget.

The council members also expressed support for adding the purchase of two police cars totaling $84,000 to the budget. The town tries to replace two of their police vehicles every year, Town Manager Ken Deal said, so it doesn’t have to pay for an entirely new fleet at one time. 

Last year, the town elected not to purchase two new vehicles out of caution for how the COVID-19 pandemic would impact sales tax revenue. However, the expected decrease in sales tax revenue never materialized, Ken Deal said. The police department requested four new vehicles to be added to this year’s budget, including the two that were not purchased last year. Council members said they would only add two at this time.

Council members also chose to add $10,000 to the budget to allow the China Grove Fire Department to pay for another part-time firefighter.

The biggest unknown pervading budget talks is the potential $1.2 million China Grove expects to receive from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan. Ken Deal said the municipality is still waiting for guidance on when the funding is coming and how it can be used. 

The current plan, Ken Deal said, is for the council to pass a budget that doesn’t include the anticipated funds with an option to amend the budget at a later date. If the town does receive the expected funding, it could use it to purchase the other two requested police cars, as well as a $170,000 knuckle boom truck requested by the Public Works Department.

The knuckle boom truck would allow the town to bolster its tree limb and yard scrap pickup service. For a resident to have their limbs picked up by the town’s public works department, the limbs must meet certain length and weight requirements. The only exception currently are those who are older than 65 or those with special needs. 

The knuckle boom truck, a large vehicle with a crane arm and a container on the back, would give the town the capability to pick up limbs of almost any shape and size.

“If we got this, we could pretty much pick up anything except for when a contractor cuts,” Mayor Mayor Pro Tem Rodney Phillips said.

The council also elected not to allocate $15,000 for improvements to Hanna Park, but it could revisit the decision if it receives the expected $1.2 million from the federal level.

In order to cover the increasing cost of trash pickup, fuel for municipal vehicles and other rising operating costs, council members face a difficult decision: increase property taxes or implement monthly service fees.

“We know we’ve got to do one or the other,” Ken Deal said. “We haven’t had a tax increase in five years and with the cost of trash pickup increasing, plus the cost of fuel, insurance and the cost of doing business, we just can’t survive another year without some of the revenue.”

Ken Deal said the cost per container for trash pickup will increase by about $1.50, which would cost the town roughly $36,000 annually.

Ken Deal said China Grove has long been one of the few municipalities in Rowan County that hasn’t charged its citizens fees.

During the meeting, Councilman Steve Stroud said he remained against implementing fees. Linn, on the other hand, said he remained against a tax increase. Ken Deal said council members will continue to ponder the decision in the coming weeks and plan on seeking citizen feedback. 

“They’re going to talk to some of the citizens and ask if they’d rather have a $10 a month fee for trash pickup or would you rather go up four or five cents on your tax rate,” Ken Deal said.

The town’s current property tax rate is 54 cents per $100 of valuation.

The town plans on approving the 2021-22 fiscal year budget at its meeting in June.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to properly reflect the title and name of Town Manager Ken Deal.

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