East Spencer waits for Salisbury answer on annexation

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, June 7, 2022

By Elisabeth Strillacci

EAST SPENCER — The Board of Aldermen held a second public hearing on their proposed budget Monday night, but will hold off on a vote to approve it until June 29 as they wait for Salisbury to decide if it will join an annexation agreement that allows East Spencer to absorb a 130-acre parcel on Bringle Ferry Road.

While aldermen asked minor questions about the proposed budget, the biggest item on the town’s agenda right now is the parcel of land that lies inside the town’s ETJ or Extra Territorial Jurisdiction. The developer, whom Douglas declined to name since the project is still up in the air, has voluntarily offered to have East Spencer annex the parcel.

Douglas approached Salisbury about an annexation agreement, and said he was originally met with hard resistance. He noted that it appeared Salisbury wanted to annex the property instead.

“It does abut the city limits of Salisbury, but it is in our ETJ,” he said. The parcel is divided by a roadway, and one portion would be rezoned residential, he said, and the portion closest to I-85 would remain commercial.

The town of Salisbury has two town council meetings between now and the end of June. Douglas asked the East Spencer board to hold their vote on the budget June 29, in hopes that they could vote on the annexation the same night. That would give Salisbury June 7 and June 21 to decide in favor of the agreement.

The developer is now inside the final 30-day extension on the project, said Douglas. If he does not have an agreement by July 7, he stands to lose approximately $100,000 that he has already invested because he will be in default, he said.

“Jim Greene is a good manager. But in the worst case scenario, Salisbury says no and the developer loses the parcel and it goes back on the market,” Douglas said. But, he added, if Salisbury were to then turn around and try to annex it, it would still require East Spencer to agree before they could take the property. And that, noted Douglas, is highly unlikely.

So on June 29, Douglas and Mayor Barbara Mallett are both hopeful that the council will vote on both the budget and the annexation.

The proposed budget has three pieces: $2.12 million of the actual town budget, $2.6 million in a Community Development Block Grant, and $4.8 million for water and sewer repairs and improvements, $4 million of which will come from a $23 million grant from the state.

“There will be no tax increase to residents from our proposed budget,” Mallett said. Town Administrator Michael Douglas said the largest increase in the budget overall comes under Parks and Recreation, because they have added three part-time employees.

“There is a 231% increase” in that line item, he said. It was $26,259 last year, and is proposed to be $86,937 this year.

The other large increase is in salaries, he said.

In addition, at the council’s last meeting, Douglas asked for approval to use approximately $250,000 to pay off the balance on a new fire truck. Monday night, he told board members that when he contacted the bank about the actual payoff amount, it was actually $330,000, but he encouraged the board to still approve the payoff. Interest on the purchases accrues daily, and paying it off will take a large item off the debit side of the town’s spending each month. Board member John Noble III said he is not opposed to paying off the truck if it is to the town’s advantage, but he still worries about the town maintaining an appropriate fund balance.

“The state came down so hard on us for years there, and we are finally in a good place, and I don’t want to see us jeopardize that,” he said. Douglas said he understands the concern, given the town’s past, but said last year the town had a fund balance of approximately $500,000, which was well within what the state wanted to see, and even paying off the truck the town will still have that same amount in the fund. And the town will continue to sell several pieces of property that are of no benefit to the town, but once sold, will provide tax income.

In other business, Douglas asked the board to approve what he termed a “misdemeanor ordinance,” which would give the town “the teeth we need to actually enforce the ordinances.” Currently the town can only give citations for zoning violations. But the new regulation will categorize violations as either a finable offense or a misdemeanor resulting in a citation from police that would require a court appearance.

“I love that idea, because people have been getting away with things for years,” said Mallett. “Like parking cars, damaged or that don’t run, on the street, or letting their grass grow for years. People don’t do anything because they know there is no punishment. We give them those slips of paper and they don’t mean anything. I am very much in favor of this.”

Board member Delores High said she likes the idea, but worries that some of the regulations need to be removed.

“There are some regulations that are a financial hardship for some of our residents,” she said. “I’d like us to review them and maybe take some out.”

Douglas said it will be a long process, likely not complete until at least December, because the board will make the decisions on which offenses merit fines and which misdemeanor charges. He encouraged all the board members to get a copy of the ordinances, offering to get them one if needed, and take the time to review them all.