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Landis removed from Local Government Commission’s watch list

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

LANDIS — After two years of being listed on the Local Government Commission’s watch list, Landis officials were informed earlier this month the town has been removed.

The Unit Assistance List is developed and issued annually by the Local Government Commission, which is part of the Department of State Treasurer. The list includes any unit with a low-, moderate- or high-risk score in internal control issues, general fund financial issues or water/sewer fund financial issues. The town received an email from Mark Baker, program analyst in the State and Local Government Finance Division, on June 9 notifying it of the removal.

“We commend you and your staff on the hard work necessary to achieve this goal,” Baker said. “We encourage you to continue to look for opportunities to improve your operations and appreciate your contributions to local government finance in North Carolina.”

Town Manager Diane Seaford said the removal means Landis’ annual budget won’t need to be approved by the LGC prior to adoption. The town also won’t be required to submit two financial audits upon the conclusion of a fiscal year.

“This is a significant accomplishment,” Seaford said. “When I first started here in September 2019, we were steps away from being taken over by the Local Government Commission for significant financial issues.”

In addition to annual audits, Seaford said the finance team, and former Finance Officer Pam Dubois in particular, has established policies and implemented necessary procedures to get the town where it is now.

“Because of a lot of hard work by the finance team, we are now in good standing with the LGC,” she added.

Alderwoman Katie Sells said she doesn’t think all citizens understand how bad Landis’ financial shape was before Seaford’s arrival.

In an interview with the Post, State Treasurer Dale Folwell said Landis is an example of a community that focused on doing what’s right and keeping things right on behalf of the taxpayers.

“With all the negativity of what we deal with in communities and the water and sewer community … it’s great to talk about a success story like Landis,” he said.

Folwell said the inability to properly govern, “get the books together,” audit or handle finances are among the reasons why such a list exists. In some cases, the commission may take over. If a town is in severe financial straights, the North Carolina General Assembly can suspend its charter.

In April, the LGC recommended the General Assembly repeal the town charter of East Laurinburg in Scotland County, citing town officials’ failure to file state-required financial audit reports the past four years and comply with other requirements of the Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act.

To get off the list, Folwell said a municipality must first acknowledge its issues before putting into place strategies and structures to prevent those issues in the future. One major factor in deciding not to take over a local government on the watch list is the willingness to make necessary improvements. Taking over Landis wasn’t necessary, he added, as the LGC, UNC School of Government and League of Municipalities “formed a circle” around the town and had “numerous spirited meetings” about understanding the reality of where the town was.

“They showed the integrity and the passion to control their own destiny,” Folwell said.

Referencing a commercial from the ’70s, he added, “We would rather just be the Maytag repair person.”

He said removal from the list is most impactful for low-income citizens or those with a fixed income because they’re the ones hit hardest when taxpayer money is spent recklessly.

Folwell said he’s also grateful because of the LGC’s limited resources. About 38 employees are tasked with overseeing about 1,300 municipalities across the state. Currently, the commission is taking over about a dozen towns.

“We love Landis, but we hope we never see their name on the list again,” Folwell said.

Currently, East Spencer is among the entities on the list due to financial issues with its water/sewer fund.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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